The Board of Trustees of Muskegon Community College voted unanimously on Wednesday to continue its tradition of an invocation at graduation, but just to the extent permitted by the law governing church and state.
The vote was in response to a complaint sent to MCC by the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) about the 2018 graduation prayer led by MCC trustee Ann Oakes who is also a minister. Her invocation included a reference to Jesus, as well as multiple references to God and the Lord.
Dr. Donald Crandall, chair of the MCC Board of Trustees, said the vote clarifies that the invocation must not refer to a specific religion or its deity and is based on the advice of the college's attorney.
"The prayer should be ecumenical. It should be brief. It should be connected to and celebrate the event taking place," said Crandall. "And it should not be tightly associated with the institution."
According to MCC President Dale Nesbary, the invocation could still be religious as long as it is not focused on any particular religion, and it could contain references to God.
And Nesbary said it could still be delivered by a religious leader like a rabbi, pastor, or iman, or by a non-religious person.
"I don't see this as a way to bring a religious person to campus," said Nesbary. "I see it as bringing someone to campus who will provide a sense of the solemnity of the event."
Mitch Kahle, co-founder and representative of MACRA, said he was satisfied with the board's action in response to the complaint.
"They took it seriously. They reviewed the matter with their attorneys," said Kahle. "And they've come up with a situation where they want to maintain the invocation. But they're going to folllow non-sectarian guidelines, so it's not particular to any religion."
Kahle said his preference would be for MCC to drop the invocation altogether.