ADA — East Central University will remove the cross from the steeple of its historic Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel, and will remove the crosses and Bibles inside, after getting a letter requesting the changes from a national organization.
ECU President Dr. Katricia Pierson made the announcement Thursday.
The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State made the request in a letter to the state university.
“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.”
The letter stated: “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.”
The Boswell Chapel, opened in 1957, has been used by various religions and clubs and for such events weddings and concerts and will continue to be available for use by all faiths, Pierson said.
“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,” she said.
Randall Christy, founder of The Gospel Station Network based in Ada, told the 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. The cross represents that all are welcome, that people of all walks of life are loved by God.”
He went on to say: “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.”
Christy said he was contacting the American Center for Law and Justice and the Liberty Council, two national Christian law firms, to “find out if we qualify for representation.”
Christy is also pastor of Union Valley Church south of Ada and executive director of The Great Passion Play & Holy Land Tour of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The demand letter on the cross was not the only letter the university has received recently charging violation of the separation of church and state.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said her Madison, Wisconsin-based organization sent East Central University a letter two days ago requesting that the school discontinue its sacred music program.
She said the program is not academic and secular in nature but religious, and as such violates the Constitution.
“ECU certainly cannot train Christian ministers to promote a sectarian religious message. Similarly, it cannot train choir leaders to promote the same message,” the letter stated.
East Central’s online catalog says the sacred music “program of study 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 said she was happy to hear about the ECU cross decision.
“More power to them. I’m really glad to hear about it,” she said.
Gaylor said her organization was “on a roll” after getting crosses removed in Pensacola, Florida, and Santa Clara, California.