Officials at East Carolina University are telling students to disregard instructions from a chemistry professor who told them they were prohibited from mentioning God during a departmental graduation ceremony.
In an email obtained by Campus Reform, Assistant Professor Eli Hvastkovs told his students to prepare "family friendly" statements for the chemistry department's recognition event. He said the remarks should refrain from mentioning God.
"I've had some submissions that needed to be edited. so [sic] here are some guidelines,” Hvastkovs wrote. "1. You can't thank God. I'm sorry about this – and I don't want to have to outline the reasons why."
University officials told WNCT-TV the email was not authorized by the school and that the incident is being used to boost awareness of students' free speech rights.
In a separate email to chemistry students this week, ECU Provost Dr. Marilyn Sheerer said that religious references "of any type" will not be restricted.
"These statements can be your personal expressions and as such the University will only limit these expressions, as permitted by applicable First Amendment law,” Sheerer said.
In an interview with Campus Reform last week, Hvastkovs defended the e-mail, which he said was necessary because too many students recognized religious figures during last year's ceremony.
“It's not a religious ceremony,” Hvastkovs said. "It's purely educational."