Be Careful What You Pray For Commencement ceremonies at the state’s universities are only a month . away, and at Midwestern State University no one will rest easy until the benediction is over. The Wichita Falls school has been enfolded in a prayer controversy since its May 1998 commencement ceremonies, when a student rapt in the throes of religious mania \(or a nearly terminal case of and Benediction. “Let us be truly a people branded with the name of Christ, a people of God, a people who will know God intimately,” exhorted Mary King, who also begged for forgiveness for her classmates’ putative sins of “idolatry,” “worshipping the intellectual mind” and “humanism.” King nearly made it through the ceremony, but as she closed M.S.U. Administrators consider Ms. King with a cry for “Mercy on them, Jesus,” she col lapsed, shrieking and sobbing. President Louis Rodriguez stepped to the podium and called for the recessional and an ambulance. episode, the faculty senate voted to recommend the end of prayers at commencement. Professor John Dowd, president of the senate at the time, recently told Left Field, “We decided that there are plenty of campus opportunities for student participation in religious-oriented activities of their own choosing, but that a school-sponsored commencement prayer is just not appropriate at a public institution.” President Rodriguez did not agree, telling a reporter that “the culture [of this area] has a strong tradition of religious beliefs.” Rodriguez has since substituted a “non-sectarian” prayer, delivered by a handpicked student who can be trusted not to deviate from a pre-approved script. Left Field has recently learned that President Rodriguez also took the extraordinary step of deleting all record of Mary King’s prayers from the official videotape of the 1998 commencement. In response to an open records request for a copy of the tape, Rodriguez responded, “When we consulted counsel after this unexpected and spontaneous format occurred, it was agreed that to republish and distribute copies of this inappropriate event would imply that the University supported and sanctioned the format and the manner in which the prayer was delivered, and would only serve to compound the wrong. In order to avoid even Flossing with Conviction an inadvertent release and repetition of a showing of this matter, the prayer was deleted from the videotape, and no tapes of the original exist to our knowledge.” That appears to mean that to avoid embarrassment to all parties but most especially the M.S.U. administration the University destroyed a public record. University counsel Roger Lee confirmed that he had advised censoring the video tape. “It’s not like we were destroying evidence or anything,” insisted Lee. “It’s just that we didn’t want to expose the University, or [King] , or anyone else to a repetition of what was inappropriate.” Texas A.C.L.U. Executive Director Jay Jacobson noted that advising the destruction of a public record or of potential evidence in a lawsuit could at least in theory subject an attorney to ethical sanctions from the state bar. The relevant section of the Texas Freedom of Information Act months’ imprisonment. Attorney Joseph Larsen of the Freedom of Information Foundation was more forgiving. In the absence of an actual litigation, he said, M.S.U. is probably in the clear. Lee was unrepentant: “We concluded that [keeping the tape] would do nothing but compound whatever transgression was perceived to have occurred in the first place.” Asked about.the administration’s conclusions, Dowd commented, “My advice to my graduate students in education is ‘full disclosure,’ being up front. If there’s something that’s embarrassing, bite the bullet, admit it … because in the long run, your credibility is more important than any of those issues by themselves.” Apparently, the bullet is out of the bag. Bootleg copies of the videotape, source unknown, are circulating in Wichita Falls. One found its way to Austin, where Left Field’s unshriven and unapologetic humanists can now amuse themselves with the spectacle of frenzied and unanswered prayers on Meanwhile late last month, the state of Texas \(in the person of Attorney sponsored prayers at public high school football games do not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. We trust the A.G. has plenty of time to preside over the content of student prayers at all Texas public institutions, in order to make certain that no “unexpected and spontaneous formats” occur. + ith the right connections and enough money, you can get almost anything you want in prison: cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, pornography, even sex. Rampant contra band trafficking reflects poorly on the Depart ment of Criminal Justice, but there are more em barrassing things still as officials discovered last month, when death row inmate Ponchai Wilk erson spit out a handcuff key as he lay dying on the lethal injection gurney. Apparently, one item you can’t get inside or so prison officials would have us believe is a hacksaw. In mid March, an inmate at a state prison near Palestine escaped from his cell and used a handmade knife to kill an inmate from a rival gang. He got out, ac cording to prison officials, by sawing through the The Observer floss test iron bars of his cell with dental floss. Just to speed things along, they said, he used toothpaste as an abrasive. Here at headquarters, that explanation set off the Official Left Field Bullshit Detector. \(Why, for example, didn’t the prisoner jimmy the lock, as over the interest of credibility, our Research and Development Department attempted to recreate the great dental breakout in the lab. Using two interns \(as far and a heavy iron door handle for our bar, we undertook a controlled study: each intern flossed for one hour per day, for one week. We used waxed floss, for durability, a baking soda toothpaste, for maximum abrasion, and a borrowed micrometer, to measure our progress. Results are shown at turned white. Our interns are still flossing. + APRIL 14, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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