Gabriel Toscano: Time for a discussion about religious favoritism at Utah Valley University

LDS apostle’s prayer at UVU event shows an apparent favoritism toward the dominant faith.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Students at Utah Valley University, October 7, 2015.

On Jan. 14, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Scott C. Keller building at Utah Valley University, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints addressed the audience in prayer.

Though not outside the norm for high-ranking members of the LDS Church to participate in such events, questions remain as to the ramifications of inviting a dominant group to participate in religious practice at official university events.

As co-president of the interfaith student council at UVU — a group that seeks to promote religious, spiritual and philosophical expression on campus — I’m concerned by the lack of clarity in university policies and tepid responses by the administration concerning these issues.

Now, there’s an opportunity to sustain a conversation — not about the legality of religious expression in the public sphere — but rather about how UVU pursues the values of equity, inclusion and support for a diverse student body.

Repeated instances of apparent favoritism and subsequent public outcry point to the ongoing challenges in the interfaith and inclusion space. But first, it’s important to note how far the university has come. UVU makes significant efforts to the goals of worldview inclusion — worldview referring to a religious, non-religious, spiritual or ethical philosophy or tradition.

The establishment of an interreligious engagement initiative, foundations of inclusion program, interfaith student council and a dedicated reflection center on campus all serve as a testament to these commitments.

However, as has been noted in the past, leaders and eminent members of the LDS Church have been given a great deal of access to prominent spaces within UVU, more than members of any other group.

Stepping into the space of competing concerns and opinions about an understandably sensitive and potentially inflammatory issue, the necessity of a definite and thoughtful university policy seems not only clear but urgent.

The hope is that scrutiny empowers those in the position to do so to define a course of action. If we are, in fact, willing to stand behind the historical favoritism of a dominant group, we must come to terms with the difficulty of promoting diversity and inclusion in this environment.

If we aren’t, there is an impetus to reemphasize our collective responsibility to the needs of a diverse community.

Gabriel Toscano

Gabriel Toscano is a senior at Utah Valley University majoring in software development.

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