Crossed Off: Texas University Removes Religious Symbol From Tower After AU Protest

It’s unfortunate that time and again, some people feel the need to construct a sectarian symbol in public spaces where everyone should feel welcome, and it’s even more unfortunate that they rarely understand why anyone would have a problem with that.

Thanks in part to a demand letter from Americans United, four crosses have been removed from a tower on the new Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus.

On Nov. 17, AU sent a letter to San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and City Manager Sheryl Scully, as well as Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Maria Hernandez Ferrier, explaining that even though the Christian symbols were on private land, the project was funded by the public. The letter also pointed out that the developer planned to one day gift the tower to the city.

According to a Nov. 19 article in the San Antonio Express-News, university adjunct criminology professor Sissy Bradford was the first to raise concern about the crosses. She expressed no joy at the removal of the religious symbols, telling the newspaper only, “If, indeed, they have been permanently removed some campus and community members will feel a loss. Respect is the only appropriate response.”

At least one graduate student, Cresencio Davila, doesn’t seem to understand what a respectful response would be. According to the Express-News, he said “If [any people] sincerely feel offended, they have a choice. They can use the other entrance if they like.”

With opinions like that, it’s no wonder Bradford was subjected to criticism because she spoke up. University graduate student Rachel Kusama told the newspaper that the debate over the crosses turned ugly and that “I had much higher expectations for the ethics and integrity of our educational community.”

Ralph Lampman of VTLM Group, which built the tower, doesn’t seem to understand why anyone was bothered by his work.

“The whole idea was to create an icon that reflected the area's history,” Lampman told the Express-News. “And it's beautiful.” He added that the tower was designed by an artist to look like the Spanish missions on San Antonio's South Side.

The newspaper also reported that university spokeswoman Marilu Reyna expressed a similar sentiment.

“[We] allowed [VTLM Group] to use our university seal on the tower, understanding that the symbols on the tower are a part of its Spanish mission theme,” Reyna said

Some people just don’t get it. As AU Assistant Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith said in our demand letter, “the federal courts have repeatedly struck down governmental displays of crosses” and this tower amounted to a governmental display of a cross. It’s about as straightforward as it can be.

I’ve been to San Antonio, there is quite a bit of history there, and there is certainly a way to incorporate the area’s history and beauty into something the entire public can enjoy without bringing religion into it. It’s unfortunate that time and again, some people feel the need to construct a sectarian symbol in public spaces where everyone should feel welcome, and it’s even more unfortunate that they rarely understand why anyone would have a problem with that.

Most unfortunate of all, perhaps, is the ugly nature of the debate among the student body. Academia is supposed to be a place for sharing ideas and considering points of view with which we may disagree. There’s nothing wrong with criticism as long as it’s productive and civil. Ugly debate, however, has no more place on a public college campus than do crosses.