An open letter re: the Iron RingIan | 19 March, 2009 | 14:19
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 This disappointment stems from the exclusive and outdated language that remains in the Obligation for the Ritual Calling of the Engineer.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.
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
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.
- APEGGA information about the Iron Ring: http://www.apegga.org/About/ironr.html
- Dr. Samarasekera’s biography: http://www.president.ualberta.ca/nav01.cfm?nav01=35798
- Dr. Samarasekera’s comments on the UofA’s new convocation: http://www.president.ualberta.ca/discover.cfm?post=3