January 2012 Church & State | People & Events

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

In mid November, AU attorneys wrote 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.

The issue was first raised by Americans United’s San Antonio Chapter as well as some members of the university community. Among them was Sissy Bradford, an adjunct criminology professor.

“Christianity is not everyone’s tower or beacon of hope, nor is the promotion of Christianity the mission of Texas A&M University-San Antonio,” Bradford wrote in an email. “Is this a public university?”

Bradford was criticized for her stand, and some people in the area dismissed her concerns.

“If [any people] sincerely feel offended, they have a choice. They can use the other entrance if they like,” Cresencio Davila, a graduate student, told the San Antonio Express-News.

The tower was built by a firm called VTLM Group, which insisted that the crosses were only meant to symbolize the area’s history.

“The whole idea was to create an icon that reflected the area’s history,” VTLM’s Ralph Lampman told the Express-News. “And it’s beautiful.” Lampman insisted that the tower was designed by an artist to invoke a few Spanish missions that exist in the city.

A 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.

AU attorneys said that explanation didn’t wash.

AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith wrote in the letter, “Because of the use of public funds and the University seal, the display of crosses on this tower unconstitutionally affiliates the University and the City of San Antonio with religion, and we ask that you work with your private partner to remove the crosses from the tower.”

The crosses were subsequently removed.