East Central University in Oklahoma apparently found a backbone hidden in a dusty closet somewhere, because only a few days after the administration surrendered to threats from an atheist group, they are now thinking twice about the cowardly capitulation.
The story began a couple of weeks ago when a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State warned the ECU that they were violating the Establishment Clause by displaying crosses and Bibles in their historic Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel.
“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,” asserted the group in a letter to ECU’s administrators.
ECU President Katricia Pierson, wanting nothing to do with the lawsuit implicitly threatened by the letter, immediately gave in to the group’s demands.
“We discussed with ECU’s executive council and with the general counsel of RUSO (the Regional University System of Oklahoma), and we are responding appropriately,” Pierson said. “ECU is doing its best to follow the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. We do not want to presume to embrace one faith over another. We support all cultures and attempt to make them comfortable when they are here.”
Pierson’s decision was met with massive criticism from local and national Christian groups, to say nothing of conservative commentators like Todd Starnes of Fox News. In an interview with the Tulsa World, Randall Christy, the founder of The Gospel Station Network, said, “It’s time for Christian people to take a stand for our history and heritage.”
He said it was absurd to believe that Christian symbolism in a chapel could make worshipers feel unwelcome.
“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 said. “I urge Gov. Fallin to stop this removal of the cross until all legal options can be examined. 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.”
Now ECU administrators are beginning to realize that atheist groups do not have the final say in what is and isn’t constitutional. In a new statement, Pierson said she was “immediately withdrawing” her earlier commitment to remove the Christian artifacts.
“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,” she said in the statement. “ECU is committed to diversity and welcomes different perspectives. This is an opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue.”
Pierson announced that ECU would be forming a committee to consider the best way forward for all parties and that any decision regarding the Christian symbols would be delayed until all viewpoints had been carefully considered.
Ultimately, those symbols may still come down, but at least the university will not be removing them simply because one busybody atheist group demanded it. If more schools would stand up against these kinds of groups, they would quickly lose much of the power they wield in today’s America.