After an Oklahoma college first indicated it would remove crosses, Bibles and other religious icons from its campus chapel after a complaint letter from a separation of church and state group, the school reversed course Friday, saying it was "immediately withdrawing its efforts" to remove the items — including the cross atop the 60-year-old chapel.
“We moved too quickly,” Katricia Pierson, president of East Central University in Ada, said in a statement. “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.”
University officials received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on June 20, Ada News reported, which argued that the religious items violate federal law and demanded their removal.
"We have received a complaint that East Central University's Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel has permanent religious iconography on display," the letter states, according to Ada News. "These displays include Latin crosses on the top of and inside the building, Bibles, and a Christian altar. 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."
Pierson said Friday that the school initially removed some items to show support for all cultures and religious beliefs, as the chapel is used for various religions, student clubs and events.
However, she added that “ECU will not take further action, either by putting back the removed items, or by removing further artifacts, including the cross on the steeple" until a diverse committee of students, faculty and community members have discussed the issue.
An attorney for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State told TheBlaze Friday it's fine if ECU wants to take a "longer look" at the issue but the outfit's stance is unchanged.
"Ultimately, we expect them to come to the same decision since the law is squarely on our side," Ian Smith said in an interview.
Republican state Sen. Greg McCortney said in a statement, “I commend ECU for reviewing the policies, and taking the time to thoughtfully consider the impacts on everyone in the university and Ada community.”
When the initial news hit that crosses and Bibles — and perhaps even the cross on top of the steeple — were on their way out, there was plenty of concern.
Randall Christy, founder of the Gospel Station Network in Ada, told the Tulsa World on Thursday that "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, also local church pastor, told the World. "The cross represents that all are welcome, that people of all walks of life are loved by God.”
He also told the World, "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.”
Christy told KXII-TV that it "just boggles my mind that people are able wield this kind of power into someone else's local community."
Ada resident Destin Wilkerson agreed. "Sent chills up my body," he told the station. "Who in their right mind would wanna have a cross taken down that's been there for you know 60 years?"
Here's a TV news report on the mostly negative reaction to the initial news:
The Tulsa Word also reported that the atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent ECU a letter earlier this week requesting that it stop its sacred music program, as it's religious rather than academic and violates the Constitution.
“ECU certainly cannot train Christian ministers to promote a sectarian religious message," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, told the World. "Similarly, it cannot train choir leaders to promote the same message."
The college's music department says the sacred music program "includes an in-depth study of the history and philosophy of sacred music, hymnology and liturgy, guitar and contemporary worship, sacred music composition, sacred music practicum, and an internship.”
Gaylor told the World she was happy to hear about the initial decision to remove the crosses, Bibles and other religious items from the chapel: “More power to them. I’m really glad to hear about it."
She told the World that the FFRF was “on a roll” after getting crosses removed in Pensacola, Florida, and Santa Clara, California.
(H/T: Todd Starnes)