Organization still calling for public apology

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2015

More than a week after a mass email was sent out by Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr., American Atheists is still calling for a public apology from the university and Hawkins.

According to reports, students received an email Tuesday, Dec. 30, from Hawkins reminding students of “the blessings we enjoy within a democracy, which is the envy of the world.” The email also included a link to a 90-second video featuring Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen, a Mormon who is open in his faith.

In the video, Christensen recalls a conversation between himself and a Marxist economist from China regarding democracy and religion who said they were “surprised at how critical religion is to the functioning of a democracy.”

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Amanda Knief, managing director of American Atheists, said the organization is publicly calling for an apology after receiving complaints from a Troy University student, and said that since publicly calling for the apology, more Troy University students and alumni have come forward saying the email was disrespectful to them.

“We can’t understand why a public email was used to send out that video,” Knief said. “It is important to note that we were not the only ones who have complained. We have heard from quite a few Troy alums and students since we heard of this, and they appreciate that we’ve spoken out in their behalf.”

The university released a statement in response, saying: “The purpose of this email was to spur introspection and encourage thoughtful discussion as we transition from the challenges of 2014 to the opportunities ahead in 2015 … Troy University is an international university that contributes regularly to the global marketplace of ideas. This message and video were shared to provide the university community with information and insights for healthy consideration and debate about our country’s democracy, the role it plays in the world and the challenges America faces going forward.”

And, while some may think the American Atheists is simply “stirring the pot,” Knief wanted to assure the public that the organization was displeased with the use of a publicly funded email and position to spread a personal belief.

“Our concern with the video message is that the chancellor is a publicly funded position at a public university,” Knief said. “The message in the video was that you have to be a religious person attending church to be a considered a moral person in the United States. When we saw the video, we agreed with the student. We agreed it was harmful to students of the university. It is perfectly fine for people to have their own beliefs, but this is a public university. It was slap in the face to someone who didn’t have religious beliefs.”

Knief said it was a common misconception in the United States that religion equaled a moral standing and felt this misconception was exacerbated by the chancellor’s comments.

“It is a common misconception that religion equals morality in this country, and it was that the thoughtlessness and casual bigotry that allowed a public chancellor to send out a video that disparaged anyone that wasn’t religious.”

“But it wasn’t about democracy, it was about religion and democracy,” Knief said. “That’s very different. We’re not satisfied. We have not yet been contacted by the university or the chancellor.”

Chancellor Hawkins was unavailable Monday to make a comment, but Andy Ellis with university relations said the university was not releasing additional statements at this time.

“That may change, that may not change,” Ellis said. “At this point, my directive has been that the statement is our comment.”