Americans United is awaiting action from East Central University in Ada, Okla., after requesting the removal of a Christian cross, Bibles and an altar from the publicly funded university’s Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel.
AU’s Legal Department, acting in response to a local complaint, notified university officials on June 20 that the permanent religious iconography on display at the chapel violates the U.S. Constitution because it shows government endorsement of a particular religion.
AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith explained to university officials in a letter that the religious items should not be on permanent display. Smith noted that students or others using the space could bring their own religious iconography for temporary display. The chapel, he said, should be welcoming to all students and be available for any religious or non-religious use.
“ECU is the state of Oklahoma,” Smith told the Ada News. “And the state of Oklahoma cannot operate a Christian chapel. The state is not Christian. It’s not … atheist. It’s not Jewish. It’s not Muslim. It’s supposed to be neutral. All this does is create an equal playing field for students at that university.”
University officials initially announced they planned to comply with AU’s request, but following an outcry, they waffled and said they would instead gather feedback from students, staff and community members first.
“We moved too quickly,” ECU President Katricia Pierson said in a statement. “We regret not taking time to pause and thoughtfully consider the request and the results of our actions.”
Shortly afterward, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) inserted himself into the situation. Calling AU’s letter “offensive” and “misleading,” Hunter said that his office would intervene to defend the chapel’s Christian symbols.
Rallies were held at the chapel, and cross supporters were further inflamed by an inaccurate video released by a Baptist pastor, the Rev. Randall Christy, founder of the Gospel Station radio network that is based in Ada. The video, which contained misleading information about the status of the cross, went viral on social media and garnered several million views.