Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins sent an email to students and staff for the New Year. In the email, he included a video of Clay Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, discussing democracy and religion.
"For your pleasure -- and as a reminder -- I am sharing with you a 90 second video which speaks to America’s greatness and its vulnerability," Hawkins wrote.
Christensen discusses a conversation he had with a Marxist economist from China who said that "Americans followed [democratic rule] because they had come to believe that they weren't just accountable to society; they were accountable to God." Without religion, Christensen says, democracy would not work.
Atheist students who received this email were not pleased with the message Hawkins was apparently spreading, promoting religion as a societal necessity at a public university.
American Atheists President David Silverman wrote a letter asking "for a public apology to the students, and other atheists whom you have disparaged with the video you included in your email," AL.com reports. Silverman said that a student at Troy was concerned about the chancellor's email.
On Monday, Troy University issued a statement about the email and video, without an explicit apology.
The video was intended "to spur introspection and encourage thoughtful discussion as we transition from the challenges of 2014 to the opportunities ahead in 2015," the university's statement said.
"This message and video were shared to provide the university community with information and insights for healthy consideration and debate about our country's democracy, the role it plays in the world and the challenges America faces going forward," the school continued.
Hawkins also sent out another email to students and staff.
"The recent New Year's message I shared with the university community was not intended to offend. It was intended to encourage recipients to embrace the year ahead and to stimulate thought and discussion as to 'why' America appears to be challenged at home and abroad," he wrote.
This response was not enough for some critics.
"Not only did he say it wasn’t meant to offend, but he said he didn’t say it," Ned Carter, a local blogger who sent one of the original complaints to the American Atheists group, told Dothan Eagle, a local newspaper. "But if you’re in a position of authority and you say 'Hey, look at this!' it’s the same thing as saying it."