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May 07, 2014 09:02 AM EDT

ECU Annuls Professor’s Ban on Graduates Thanking God during Graduation Ceremony (UPDATE)

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East Carolina University officials overruled a chemistry professor's ban on graduates thanking god during their department's graduation ceremony, Friday. The University officials said that the email containing protocol for personal statements sent May 1, was not approved by the school.

Assistant Professor Eli Hvastkovs asked the students to prepare cordial speeches of not more than 35 words expressing their gratitude to someone or revealing their future plans. But they were asked to avoid any mentions of god in their statements.

"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," Campus Reform reports.

ECU Provost Dr. Marilyn Sheerer said that students were free to include religious references "of any type" in their brief speech at their department graduation.

"Please disregard Dr. Hvastkovs's previous email regarding your departmental graduation statement he sent to you ......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, WNCT reports.

The Greenville, North Carolina, university said that permitting students to express personal statements "creates a forum for student expression," Washington Post reports.

Defending the e-mail, Hvastkovs said that there were too many citations of religious figures during 2013 ceremony. The professor said that it is an educational ceremony not a religious one. "We have a diverse student body."

Writing at the ChicksOnTheRight.com blog, blogger Mockarena said that the faculty member needed to undergo remedial civics course in the First Amendment.

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