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Professor bans students from saying ‘God bless you’ in class

Cellphones during class? Definitely disruptive. Saying “God bless you”? According to a Texas professor, that could raise a ruckus too, and so students were banned from responding to a sneeze in such a manner during class.

“Please refrain from saying, “God bless you” during the classes and exams,” the syllabus states.

It’s hard to understand the justification for a decision here, especially in a place of higher learning, where most students go to explore different viewpoints. What about free speech? While there is murky ground when it comes to freedom of speech in the classroom, some cite a 1957 ruling by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, in which he wrote, “The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. … Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding, otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” He doesn’t mention saying “God bless you,” but it certainly seems to fall in this camp.

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Not to mention that saying “God bless you” is typically a reflex — something we say out of habit — and not a proclamation of faith or attempt to convert anyone. Even if there’s more meaning intended behind it, how disruptive could that simple phrase really be?

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Beyond that, this case raises so many questions: What if you drop the “God” and just say “bless you” — is that OK? What if you burp? Can you say “excuse me” as long as no deity is mentioned? How about “gesundheit”?

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Perhaps there’s more to the story, and this item on the syllabus was sparked by a specific incident or a series of incidents. If so, we’d like to know what they were. As it stands now, the college has stated that the restriction on “God bless you” has been removed from the syllabus and that the professor will address student concerns directly. Godspeed to him or her… or perhaps we should say “good luck” instead.

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