ADA, Okla. – The Oklahoma Attorney General is firing back at a Washington, D.C. group after the group continues to demand that East Central University remove the cross from its chapel.
Earlier this year, officials at East Central University received a letter from attorneys with the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State insisting the crosses, Bibles and other religious symbols at the campus chapel items violate federal law under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
“We have received a complaint that East Central University’s Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel has permanent religious iconography on display,” the letter states. “These displays include Latin crosses on the top of and inside the building, Bibles, and a Christian altar. While it is legal for a public university to have a space that can be used by students for religious worship so long as that space is not dedicated solely to that purpose, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to display religious iconography on government property. Please remove or cover the religious displays and items.”
At first, university officials responded, saying they planned to remove the items, but changed its stance after receiving backlash from the community.
“We moved too quickly,” said Katricia Pierson, ECU president. “We regret not taking time to pause and thoughtfully consider the request and the results of our actions on all of the students, faculty and community members who we serve.”
Upon hearing about the situation, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced that he would defend the university’s decision to keep the cross on top of the chapel.
“My office stands ready to defend the religious freedom of Oklahomans from misleading tactics such as the ones employed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State,” he wrote.
However, the Washington, D.C. based Americans United for Separation of Church and State continues to demand the university remove the cross, according to a release from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.
On August 16, the special interest group sent a follow-up letter to the attorney general’s Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani, demanding the removal of the religious icons from the chapel.
In the response to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s request, Attorney General Hunter rejected the group’s request.
“We discount the legal reasoning contained in your letter and absolutely reject your demand to remove the cross from the chapel,” Hunter wrote.
Hunter added that the allegation that ECU is operating a “Christian chapel” is untrue.
“Those involved on the ground in Oklahoma – unlike those writing letters of intimidation from Washington D.C. – know that the chapel is welcoming to all people,” he said.
Attorney General Hunter went on to list other examples of the Supreme Court rejecting the Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s arguments in two other cases.
“It is clear that the State of Oklahoma will not be able to find common ground with your Washington, D.C.-based group. Further communication on this matter is a waste of time and money for the State of Oklahoma,” Hunter wrote in his final paragraph in the letter. “It is also a frivolity for whatever groups fund your organization. We hope to see no future letters from your organization on this matter.”
Attorney General Hunter said the threats by the out-of-state group to ECU and Oklahomans are without merit.
“My office will not allow an out-of-state interest group to bully the university and the state of Oklahoma,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The superficial demands the group are making have no merit or legal reasoning. We absolutely reject the demand to remove the cross or other religious material or icons in the church.
“We have no desire to negotiate and ask them to conclude correspondence with the state of Oklahoma on this matter.”
The Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel at East Central University in Ada opened to all faiths in 1957. The chapel was a gift from S.C. Boswell in memory of his wife. Since opening, it has been used by numerous religious groups and clubs on campus, as well as for weddings and other events.