31 January 2007

The Religion-Free Zone.


A couple months ago I posted about the decision of the president of the College of William & Mary to remove the cross from the Altar in the campus' Wren Chapel. Two William & Mary alumni fear that this decision, should it stand, will lead to the elimination of all religious symbols in state supported institutions.

THIS GLOOMY FUTURE has its origins at the College of William and Mary located in Williamsburg. Founded in 1693, William & Mary is the nation's second oldest university. Last year, the institution hired a new college president, Gene Nichol. Among President Nichol's early acts was his decision last October to order the removal of the 18-inch cross from atop the altar table in the school's 275-year-old Wren Chapel. A gift from the neighboring Bruton Parish Episcopal Church--the same church that William & Mary's first president, the Reverend James Blair, presided over in the 1690s--the cross had been a fixture on the Wren Chapel altar for the last 70 years.

. . .

BUT WHY DID NICHOL decide to remove the cross in the first place? Nichol wrote that over the 18 months he has been president, a number of members of the William & Mary community complained that the display of the cross is "at odds with [William and Mary's] role as a public institution." Nichol went on to cite these same community members as suggesting that the cross "sends a message that the Chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others. That there are, at the College, insiders and outsiders." [emphasis added].

Nichol's explanation is curious because the language he attributes as coming from community members is the same language ACLU staff attorneys use in letters and lawsuits when they attempt to remove religious symbols from the public landscape.

. . .

SHOULD WILLIAM & MARY'S Board of Visitors punt on the issue, then the task of righting this outrage will fall to Virginia's Democratic governor, Tim Kaine. What will he make of the Wren Chapel controversy? And if he deems President Nichol's move to be prudent, will Kaine see to the removal of the altar cross from the University of Virginia's school chapel? What about the school chapels at Virginia Tech and James Madison?

What about the other crosses across the Commonwealth? There is a cross atop the ceremonial mace of the Virginia House of Delegates that is presented by the sergeant-at-arms in the House chamber. It remains there each day until the House adjourns. The City of Norfolk likewise has a cross-adorned mace. As, coincidentally, does the College of William & Mary. For that matter, the logo of William & Mary's new Mason School of Business also has, naturally, a cross on its top. Where will it end?

THESE WORRIES are not far-fetched. For example, the ACLU is currently litigating for the removal of the century-old cross atop Mount Soledad near San Diego. In 2004, the ACLU successfully forced the dismantling of a cross from federal land preserve in the Mojave Desert. Also in 2004, the ACLU successfully threatened to sue the County of Los Angeles if it failed to remove a tiny cross in the city's logo (the L.A. County Board caved in a 3-2 vote, deciding to avoid the costs of a lawsuit).

Four hundred years ago, the Jamestown colonists waded ashore at Cape Henry and erected a cross in thanksgiving. Today, Gene Nichol, along with his ACLU allies, are working to push them back into the sea. We know the lengths to which the ACLU and its adherents will fight to erase America's historic memory by seeking the removal of crosses and other religious symbols from our public square. What is much less certain is to what lengths other citizens and their leaders will go to stop them.

Update: Newt Gingrich & Christopher Levenick weigh in over on National Review Online.
 

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