University Considers Removal of Bibles and Crosses from Chapel

Queering the Bible

An Oklahoma public university is reconsidering its original decision to remove religious articles from its chapel after it received a complaint from an organization that describes itself as a “national religious liberty watchdog group.”

On Friday East Central University (ECU) announced it was putting a halt to its removal of religious articles, such as bibles and crosses, from its Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel and steeple, until receiving feedback from students and faculty.

“We moved too quickly,” said Katricia Pierson, ECU president. “We regret not taking time to pause and thoughtfully consider the request and the results of our actions on all of the students, faculty and community members who we serve.”

Pierson said the school began removing the religious items after receiving a complaint from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a group that says it “envision[s] an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.”

Much of the Americans United website is devoted to LGBT advocacy and reproductive rights.

According to the Washington Post, the letter Americans United sent to ECU states:

While it is legal for a public university to have a space that can be used by students for religious worship so long as that space is not dedicated solely to that purpose, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to display religious iconography on government property. Please remove or cover the religious displays and items.

Ian Smith, an attorney for Americans United, told the Post he does not know of other schools that have religious icons displayed.

“In this case, everything screams this is a Christian chapel,” he said, adding that students can bring their own religious items to the chapel.

“Iconography communicates a message,” he said. “It can’t be a room just for religious use.”

However, in 2013, John Eastman, law professor at Chapman University, told Breitbart News the phrase “separation of Church and State” is not in the Constitution as many believe. He added that Americans United has continued the phrase’s incorrect usage as it sues city councils, schools, and other groups to pressure them to remove God from their institutions.

“It’s become part of the common parlance … you go to any city council meeting, [and you’ll hear] ‘You can’t do that, it violates the separation of church and state.’ People believe that’s what the Constitution actually says,” Eastman said.

ECU has also received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which requested the school discontinue its sacred music program. FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor claims the sacred music program is not academic and secular, but religious, and, therefore violates the Constitution, reports Tulsa World.

“ECU certainly cannot train Christian ministers to promote a sectarian religious message,” the FFRF letter stated. “Similarly, it cannot train choir leaders to promote the same message.”

Randall Christy, founder of the Gospel Station Network based in Ada, Oklahoma, told Tulsa World, “It’s time for Christian people to take a stand for our history and heritage.”

“The idea that the cross excludes people is not true — it’s the opposite,” Christy said. “The cross represents that all are welcome, that people of all walks of life are loved by God.”

“I urge Gov. Fallin to stop this removal of the cross until all legal options can be examined,” he continued. “And I encourage Christians to immediately make your voices heard on this matter. ECU administration is not the enemy here. It’s outside forces at work to force this action upon our local university.”

Pierson said the school will bring together a committee of students, faculty, and community members to study the issue of removing the religious items.

“I commend ECU for reviewing the policies, and taking the time to thoughtfully consider the impacts on everyone in the university and Ada community,” said state Sen. Greg McCortney (R), according to the university’s announcement.

“ECU is committed to diversity and welcomes different perspectives,” Pierson continued. “This is an opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue. ECU will not take further action until the committee has had ample time to discuss and establish policies or guidelines for religious expressions in the art, history, architecture, study and areas of worship on campus.”

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