University takes heat for removing religious items from chapel


The East Central University (ECU) in Oklahoma says it “moved too quickly” when it began removing religious articles from its Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel, after the public university received complaints.

ECU’s president Katricia Pierson said the school began removing the religious items after it received a complaint from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. American’s United “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,” according to Breitbart.

The three-page complaint from Americans United asked that the school “remove or cover the religious displays and items” located on government property.  They admit that a public university can legally establish a space that students can use for religious worship, but they contend that “it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to display religious iconography” there. The letter cites numerous legal decisions that support the group’s assertion, but it doesn’t identify the source that generated the complaint initially, writing only, “We have received a complaint.”

The groups attorney, Ian Smith, told the Washington Post that other schools don’t display religious icons as prominently as ECU. “In this case, everything screams this is a Christian chapel,” he said, “Iconography communicates a message. It can’t be a room just for religious use.”

According to Breitbart, John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University, said the phrase “separation of Church and State” isn’t even in the Constitution. He said Americans United uses the phrase incorrectly “as it sues city councils, schools, and other groups to pressure them to remove God from their institutions,” and that people believe that the Constitution “actually” says that.

“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.’” Eastman said.

On Thursday, Pierson said, “We discussed (the matter) with ECU’s executive council and with the general counsel of the Regional University System of Oklahoma and we are responding appropriately.” After first announcing the college would remove crosses, Bibles, the steeple and other religious icons from its campus chapel, it reversed course Friday after receiving feedback from students and faculty. Pierson admits, “We moved too quickly.”

“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 Friday. She said a committee of students, faculty, and community members will be formed to look at the issue.

ECU has also received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), who want the school discontinue its sacred music program. According to FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, the program is not academic or secular. Gaylor says the program is religious, and that it violates the Constitution.

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

Christy asks Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) to step in. “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.”

Peirson says, “ECU is committed to diversity and welcomes different perspective.,” She says the complaints have provided an opportunity for dialogue, and that the school will take no further action, either in removing items or replacing those already removed, until the committee has established new rules.

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