An open letter re: the Iron Ring

The following is the letter that I have sent regarding the Iron Ring ceremony:

An open letter to the Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc., the University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering, and APEGGA

I write to address my disappointment in The Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc. (CSW), the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering, and of APEGGA. This disappointment stems from the exclusive and outdated language that remains in the Obligation for the Ritual Calling of the Engineer. I refer specifically to the explicit assumption that all engineers to be obligated hold a belief in the existence of a higher power.

On 9 March 2009, I was refused the ability to sign the Obligation without violating my conscience. I had requested the option to strike the line “God helping me” from the end of the Obligation, and was denied. As such I could not sign the document Possessing no belief in God, it would be dishonest for me to be obligated under the same ceremony that asks repeatedly for my Honour and to disobey my own beliefs. Further, I feel personally offended that the aforementioned organizations would suggest that I ought to betray myself in such a way.

Each of the CSW, Faculty of Engineering and APEGGA is involved in this systematic discrimination against those who hold no belief in God. The Faculty, through repeated endorsements in ENGG 100, 101 and 400, as well as the use of space in ETLC for Obligation signing and Iron Ring sizing, has inextricably tied itself to the CSW. Similarly, APEGGA has offered similar endorsements to the Iron Ring through its website.

“Like many established symbols, in recent years, the iron ring ceremony has come under criticism. It is viewed by some as sexist and by others as archaic. Some argue that the ceremony should be public. Others suggest it relies excessively on Judeo – Christian principles. Some feel that language should be changed to reflect current times by eliminating any reference to gender or to God. Others simply state that the overall tone is inappropriate for these enlightened times.”

However, they merely respond that “…the value of the ceremony and the obligation and the reason why the heritage of the iron ring ceremony should be valued and preserved.” This utterly fails to adequately address any of the concerns addressed in the cited paragraph.

What value does tradition and ceremony hold if they are unable to grow with our culture? When the ceremony was devised in 1925, the language reflected the times. It also reflected the biases and discriminations that existed then. In 1925, women had had the ability to vote in Canada for less than 10 years, while First Nations and members of specific races and religions could not vote. Were the Iron Ring ceremony of 1925 not to be open to the Chinese would we continue that practice today in the name of tradition? A truly meaningful Obligation is one that everyone feels comfortable and proud to sign, not one where potentially up to one third of the signatories are disregarding or excluded by portions of the wording.

Many similar arguments to these being presented by the CSW and its allies were heard in protest of the requested change the convocation charge at the University of Alberta. However, realizing that human rights were being violated, they agreed to a change, and took the opportunity to draft a charge that could be viewed as truly inspiring to all students. The new charge incorporates historical aspects, as well as recognition of the rights of freedom from religion and freedom to religion. Specifically, University of Alberta President Dr. Indira Samarasekera, one of Canada’s leading metallurgical engineers, states:

“In the past, Albertan society used to encapsulate this idea with the words ‘to the glory of God.’ Now, Albertan society has changed and different words are needed. This does not mean that we are abandoning long-standing values. By echoing the words of our founding president, Henry Marshall Tory, and the U of A’s motto, the new wording of our convocation charge is both a nod to tradition and a response to the need for change. And, fostering change in critical awareness of the past, in my view, is another goal that every great university should strive to achieve, and another reason why I take pride in how our community handled this issue.”

Seeing as the APEGGA Code of Ethics demands that engineers respect human rights relating to matters of religion, it seems hypocritical for the organization to endorse the Iron Ring, without requiring that the ceremony be open and respectful to all practicing engineers.

I urge the Faculty of Engineering at the University Alberta and APEGGA to lobby the CSW to alter the wording of the Obligation, and the ceremony itself to reflect the diversity of viewpoints that are present among their constituents. If the CSW is unwilling to perform these changes, as is their right, then, as public organizations, APEGGA and the Faculty must remove their support from the CSW and Iron Ring, thereby recognizing the principle of the separation of church and state.

With my graduation is rapidly approaching, it is my desire to participate in the rituals with the friends and colleagues that I’ve spent the past few years with, but I refuse to compromise my principles to partake in this ceremony. It must be understood that were I to have signed the Obligation as it remains written, it would have been rendered meaningless to me.

Instead, I shall pledge to myself, not upon Cold Iron, but upon my honour, that I will abide by the intention of the Obligation, which, I believe, requires no belief in God and instead asks that every person perform to their utmost in their duties, and in failing that, be willing to admit their own faults. By refusing to modernize the Obligation and ceremony, the CSW appears to have lost sight of the meaning of the words in a stubborn adherence to traditionalism.

I remain optimistic that I will be allowed to sign a modified version of the Obligation, so that I can have the same right as every religious graduate of engineering.

Sincerely,

Ian Bushfield

The text of the Obligation for the Ritual Calling of an Engineer (from ENGG 400 course notes http://www.engineering.ualberta.ca//pdfs/ENGG%20400%20Week%203%20-%20Compliance,%20Engineering%20Organizations,%20Iron%20Ring.pdf)

The Corporation of The Seven Wardens Inc
Custodians and Administrators of
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer
Obligation

I, ________ in the presence of these my betters and my equals in my Calling, bind myself upon my Honour and Cold Iron, that, to the best of my knowledge and power. I will not henceforward suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faulty Material in aught that concerns my works before mankind as an Engineer, or in my dealings with my own Soul before my Maker.

My time I will not refuse; my Thought I will not grudge; my Care I will not deny towards the honour, use, stability and perfection of any works to which I may be called to set my hand.

My fair wages for that work I will openly take. My Reputation in my Calling I will honourably guard; but I will in no way go about to compass or wrest judgement or gratification from any one with whom I may deal. And further, I will early and warily strive my uttermost against professional jealousy or the belittling of my working-colleagues in any field of their labour.

For my assured failures and derelictions, I ask pardon beforehand of my betters and my equals in my Calling here assembled; praying that in the hour of my temptations, weakness and weariness, the memory of this my Obligation and of the company before whom it was entered into, may return to me to aid, comfort and restrain.

Upon Honour and Cold Iron, God helping me, by these things I purpose to abide.

Also referenced:

24 thoughts on “An open letter re: the Iron Ring

  1. I hope you didn’t include Office’s convert-to-”HTML” crud in your actual letter. ;)

    The Iron Ring ceremony was the one university tradition that I didn’t think was a completely meaningless waste of time; you’re making me seriously consider a similar protest.

    While this may seem like a trivial issue to some people, for the pledge to be meaningful it has to be inclusive enough. If you and I have to pretend that parts of it aren’t there, what’s the point?

    Thanks for pointing this issue out and not compromising on it.

  2. Well, I couldn’t believe I’d see this, at the very least you could have respected the CSW’s wishes that even though the ceremony is not a secret, that you not share details of it publicly or to the media.

    Every year thousands of engineers sign the pledge voluntarily. No one is making you do this, if you don’t want to, and want to instead make your own crappy pledge no one is complaining. I’m neither Jewish or Christian and I took the pledge. Repeatedly the ceremony emphasizes that the key is the intent not the language in it. Changing the language in the ceremony is like changing the ring itself. I want to have participated in the same ceremony as the person who gave me my ring, and the same as the ceremony where that person aquired their ring.

    If I was given a ring with a different shape than previous rings I would feel cheated, like I got some second rate knockoff. Same would apply if I went to a different ceremony as those before me. Changing the language to suit everyone’s tastes just cheapens the ceremony. Pretty soon it’s going to be a public ceremony where everyone promises [because swearing to a cause is too old fashioned] to do “the best they can do in whatever field they chose to go into, and be nice to all the humans and animals they meet, and just be the best person they can be” because forcing anyone to a code of honor everyone can’t agree on would be against their human rights

  3. Well, I couldn’t believe I’d see this, at the very least you could have respected the CSW’s wishes that even though the ceremony is not a secret, that you not share details of it publicly or to the media.

    Every year thousands of engineers sign the pledge voluntarily. No one is making you do this, if you don’t want to, and want to instead make your own crappy pledge no one is complaining. I’m neither Jewish or Christian and I took the pledge. Repeatedly the ceremony emphasizes that the key is the intent not the language in it. Changing the language in the ceremony is like changing the ring itself. I want to have participated in the same ceremony as the person who gave me my ring, and the same as the ceremony where that person acquired their ring.

    If I was given a ring with a different shape than previous rings I would feel cheated, like I got some second rate knockoff. Same would apply if I went to a different ceremony as those before me. Changing the language to suit everyone’s tastes just cheapens the ceremony. Pretty soon it’s going to be a public ceremony where everyone promises (because swearing to a cause is too old fashioned) to do “the best they can do in whatever field they chose to go into, and be nice to all the humans and animals they meet, and just be the best person they can be” because forcing anyone to a code of honor everyone can’t agree on would be against their human rights

    1. No, discrimination doesn’t get a free pass because the club wants to keep it a secret. This needs to be exposed. If they want to remain religious then they shouldn’t be endorsed by public institutions like the universities or APEGGA.

      And if all that matters to you is the ceremony, then that’s fine, but I’m not going to respect a ceremony that I disagree with the words. The words and whole thing becomes meaningless if I disregard any of it.

      1. This is exactly why this is a voluntary ceremony and oath. If you can’t respect tradition and the engineers that conceived this, why should they respect you? Yes, this oath was conceived in a time when religion was important to many. If your definition of god is science, then the oath is still valid. This oath in no way shape or form defines WHO your “god” is or what they/it mean to you.

        With that being said, this whole thing is just rambling of a pathetic individual who wants to stand on a soapbox and get attention. No one cares what you think of the ceremony or if you participate.

  4. I wonder if they would be okay with swearing an oath to the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Would that change the intent of the ceremony?

  5. This is a voluntary oath and ceremony. Don’t like it, don’t go and save us your sniveling and whining. Things were alot different and relion was important when this ceremony was conceived. If you can’t respect the past and it’s engineers, why should they respect you.

    So go stand on your soapbox somewhere else.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. I am an atheist and an engineer, and I think you’re missing the entire point. Respect tradition and understand that nobody is forcing you to believe in God through this ceremony – instead they’re teaching us some valuable lessons about discipline, attention to detail, the responsibility we take for the lives of others, and the importance of dignity and honour.

      Even though they’re using Biblical examples, this ceremony is not evangelical. When I swore an oath to God (yes, I said it! “God!”), I wasn’t thinking in the back of my head that I’m being brainwashed or converted – I used the idea of God to represent the notion that I’m taking an oath that can’t be superseded by anything in our known universe.

      Besides, tradition is fun and it’s great to take part in a nearly century-old ritual that has a lot of meaning for all Canadian engineers. What’s next, get rid of Christmas too while we’re at it? Lighten up.

  6. Exactly Bob,

    You cried over “God Helping me”??? Are you serious? That isn’t even a contradiction to Atheism. You aren’t saying you believe in God. God is a symbol of the reason for creation of all things in this Universe. God can be Physics, God can be Mathematics. It is whatever you believe to be true. It’s people like you that really piss me off. Religion, in it’s self, is not a bad thing. The institutions of Religion are corrupt. So all you atheists who scream bloody murder because “God” is in the National Anthem, or in the oath I have to swear, grow up. Your civil rights are not being violated. We, the rest of the population, who understand the significance of tradition and history, are being violated with your senseless dribble.

  7. Excellent post. This is especially relevant considering that a vast majority of engineers and scientists are atheists. Gods and spirituality and supernatural have nothing to do with engineering. I wish you success in your actions.

  8. Um … that separation of church and state thing? That is down here in the good old U. S. of A. You would like it in the U. S. of A. Anybody and their dog can call themselves an engineer. Two years at ITT Tech and you are an engineer. A year at DeVry you are an engineer. Six weeks at a Microsoft diploma mill and you can call yourself an engineer.

    I am an atheist. I go to church: weddings and funerals. I don’t pitch a fit. I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan: translate its crest and it comes up as God and Country. I graduated from one of the top Enginering schools in North America: I am god damned proud of it (oops I’ve offended you). I put myself through college as an officer in the Canadian Forces. I didn’t whine because Sikhs got their own cool camouflage combat turbans. I have been to the Canadian war memorials in Ypres and Vimy. I have been in foreign countries where upon the locals find out you are Canadian and you don’t have to pay for a drink all night. Likewise I have been abroad and people find out I am Canadian and they spot the Iron Ring they know I am an engineer.

    All of this has one thing in common. Respect.

    Grow some yarbles and show some respect. And if you don’t like it my father, my sister, my niece, my daughter, my cousin and myself (all atheists and iron ring holders spanning 70 years and 3 generations) have one thing to say. Fuck off crybaby.

  9. After reading this, I did a little reading on the subject. It appears that American engineers were inspired by the Ritual of the Calling here in Canada and created their own “Order of the Engineer” in 1970. They wear a plain stainless steel ring (known simply as the “Engineer’s Ring”) that they receive in a ritual called “the obligation of the engineer.” They have changed their oath to be secular and it is much more modern to begin with than its Canadian counterpart. I quite like it. Here are the relevant links:

    Main website:

    http://www.order-of-the-engineer.org/

    Text of the oath:

    http://www.asce.org/uploadedFiles/Leadership_Training_-_New/OBLIGATION.pdf

  10. Thanks for bringing up this issue. Thousand year old fairy tales have no place in the very important pledge to engineering ethics, and superstitious beliefs are very much in opposition to the foundation of scientific principles that engineering is based on.

  11. I believe the common phrase for this is “making a mountain out of a mole hill”

    or possibly “crying over spilled milk”

    or if I may be so bold “attention whore”

    I personally feel great about having an iron ring.

    its a shame you dont have one.

  12. I too have a problem with the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer – but from the other side of the fence. My problem is with the words “I bind myself…upon cold iron.” The words “I bind myself” are the classic formulation of an oath.

    I am a practicing Christian and take seriously the New Testament’s position on oaths: “Most of all…never take an oath…just say a simple yes or no” (James 5:12) and “Do not take an oath…say…simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:34-37).

    Canadian law makes explicit provision for people in my situation: I have given evidence in court without taking an oath, and I became a Canadian citizen without taking an oath. But in the 34 years since I became a Professional Engineer, I have been repeatedly denied an exemption from the 8 words that constitute the oath portion of the Ritual. Just like the ethical atheists in this forum, I’m being asked to compromise my integrity to wear an Iron Ring.

  13. I believe that both sides of this argument are completely valid.

    Comments:
    @ Nazim: “If I was given a ring with a different shape than previous rings I would feel cheated”
    -> The ring is of different shape, composition and manufacturing than those which preceeded it. It is NOT *hand* stamped as they were before. The composition has changed and it has been buffed to all hell. I know a few engineers who do not wear the ring, but keep it at home – ask around, have a look, feel cheated.

    @ M.C. Mag Uidhir P.Eng.: “amen”! :)

    @ Mike: “What’s next, get rid of Christmas too while we’re at it?”
    -> Even judging that your post is not that old, do you not see that this Christmas is now gone too? Take your Giving Tree and wish someone some Happy Holidays… All while the secular/non-Christians will enjoy the stat holiday. In the time since your post, it has happened “I have work to do, I don’t have time to take a holiday, yet my boss is forcing me to take a holiday”. Ok, Lets ban Christmas.

    @ Aytisi: Good point, with reference. I care not for a faith myself, but your point is well based.

    In the end, is the “problem with society” the believe that we are all unique and precious snowflakes with delicate feelings?? What utter bullshit.

    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. (Orwell, 1955)

  14. APEGA, which supports this “traditional wording” created an Earth Science Ring in 1975. If there was no Earth Science Ring in 1922 should there be one now?

    I am actually surprised how “diverse” (not misogynist or racist) the oath is given that it was written in 1922. If the traditional wording required a radical rewrite I can understand more resistance to changing, but all that is needed it to strike three small words that would not change the intent or solemnity of the oath. I never really noticed the inclusion of God in ’89 when I got mine, but I wouldn’t have noticed their absence either.

  15. I was a practising engineer for more than 30 years, and have been proud to wear an iron ring since my graduation in 1970. But I agree the wording of the Obligation is outdated, and much of the trappings of the “Private Ceremony” are a Victorian relic. I dare say most graduates think the ceremony is silly too, but endure it as a “rite of passage” in order to obtain the ring. How many engineers, once they graduate, are ever involved in the “Fellowship of the Ring” again (if I may steal a phrase)? Time is passing the Society by. During my career I have observed most Professional engineering associations adopting mandatory Ethics Policies, and mandatory exams on those policies, which would be largely unnecessary if The Obligation had any enduring meaning in engineers’ lives. It should be modernized, and publicized, and engineers should be reminded of it regularly, as doctors are with the Hippocratic oath (of which there are also modernized versions}.

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