Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No Cross on the Chapel?

Just finished reading an interesting post over at Civil Commotion, over the decision to remove the Cross from the 300-year old Wren Chapel, at the College of William and Mary. I am Christian, but don't think you have to be a Christian to find this problematic at the very least. The charter itself establishes the school's history as a school with Christian traditions, and it's not really a violation of church-state separation to keep those traditions. The main argument in support of this change is the fact that this school has become non-denominational, and receives public support:

“In order to make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area,” Engimann said.

The cross will be returned to the altar for those who wish to use it for events, services or private prayer. Student tour guides have been directed to pass any questions or complaints about the change on to administrators.

Interesting argument, but wrong. The thing is, if the cross has to be removed except for private sectarian gatherings, what principle allows the cross to remain at all, since the school is non-denominational? Is it non-denominational only some of the time? The logic doesn't hold. The fact is, the cross represents the tradition of the school, much like the name of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. This ruling by the college seems wrongheaded, and a betrayal of its traditions. Besides, couldn't you leave the cross up, and allow other faiths to use their respective religious items for their sectarian events? Again, this is a wrong-headed ruling.

Don't get me wrong, Bob Felton runs an interesting blog, yet I must say his anti-religious hostility is problematic for obvious reasons.


Not Your Mama said...

I'm not religious and I agree. This is carrying the separation issue too far.

In this case the Cross is obviously historical and like it or not, Christianity is part of our historical heritage.

Sarah said...

As a religious person and non-Christian, I think that the reasoning "to make it more welcoming" is sound. In overtly Christian spaces, my reaction ranges from "barely noticing" to "distinctly uncomfortable." In my years as a student at the College, I attended quite a few school-related events in the chapel. It is not unreasonable to make that space more welcoming to those of non-Christian backgrounds in attending such events. It certainly sounds as though they are making the cross readily available to those who wish to have it present in the chapel for other gatherings.

I see this less as a church-state issue and more as an effort to be as welcoming as possible to all people, regardless of whether they are Christian or not.