Was it simply a poor choice, or an attack on religious liberty and freedom of speech? Either way, a college professor’s rule forbidding the expression, “Bless you,” after a sneeze became the talk of the town ever since the offending syllabus was delivered in class Wednesday. That rule has now been retracted, after a public outcry.
In his syllabus for his Introductory Physics class at the College of Coastal Georgia, Dr. Leon Gardner informed students that certain behaviors are considered disruptive and will be penalized, up to 15% of the final grade, according to Campus Reform. In Gardner’s hierarchy of disruptiveness, saying “Bless you” after a classmate sneezes is deemed “especially rude,” more so than than use of cell phones or talking with other students in conversations unrelated to class material.
Discussing tonight’s game or last night’s frat party may be considered disruptive, but is somehow not as rude as saying “Bless you.” The syllabus lists six specific behaviors that the professor will not tolerate, and which will result in a reduction in the student’s grade. “Numbers 3, 5, and 6 are especially rude, and may result in an immediate 1% grade deduction for each occurrence,” according to Dr. Gardner.
Rule #6 prohibits:
“Saying ‘bless you.’ We are taught that it is polite to say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. However, if you say this while I am talking, it is NOT polite, it is very rude!”
Less offensive is Rule #1, which refers to “Talking with classmates unrelated to class participation.” The second rule refers to being late for class, while the fourth rule prohibits the use of cell phones or other electronics in class. Responding with a quiet “Bless you” is considered more disruptive than any of these.
After the story of Dr. Gardner’s anti-bless you rule went viral, a number of people made phone calls to the college, reports Inside Higher Ed. Many accused the Georgia college of bias against religion, but a college spokesperson argued that the professor’s point was the disruption the expression caused, not the religious connotation in “Bless you.”
That explanation may ring hollow to some, considering the fact that unrelated conversation and cell phone usage are not deemed as disruptive. Earlier this month, The Inquisitr reported that a high school student in Tennessee was suspended for “godly speaking” after telling a classmate “Bless you” following a sneeze.
While some of the outcry from the public has been focused on the religious aspect of the expression, it must be acknowledged that both the high school in Tennessee and the college in Georgia are located in the deep South, a region that is considered “the Bible belt.” Not only is saying “Bless you” or even “God bless you” seen as the proper Christian response, it is also ingrained into the culture of the South as a whole.
For students who have grown up in that part of the country, responding with a “Bless you” after a sneeze is as normal and customary as saying “Excuse me” after bumping into someone or belching. Not to do so is considered extremely rude. For most native Southerners, it is an automatic response, done without thinking. It takes serious thought and retraining to refrain from doing so.
If, as some have argued, a number of students intentionally disrupt class with a series of “Bless you”s from all over the classroom, over more than a few seconds, the teacher may be within his rights to put a stop to the behavior. At that point, it truly has become an issue. The problem, then, is not that a couple of students politely said, “Bless you,” but it is the continuous repetition of the phrase by a number of students. Any phrase would be disruptive.
When a phrase that is considered to be a religious phrase is singled out for censure, citizens who value freedom of religion are concerned. In the case of the College of Coastal Georgia, the phone calls and negative attention drawn to the college have paid off. The offending rule has been removed, and “the college is conducting a full review.” The administrations of both the college and the high school in Tennessee continue to maintain innocence in the matter, saying that the real issue is the disruption, not the phrase, “Bless you” itself. Do you buy that?