East Central University officials will remove crosses, Bibles and other religious symbols from Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel in response to a legal demand letter the university received from a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group’s attorney.
University officials received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State June 20, insisting the items violate federal law.
"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."
The three-page letter cites numerous legal decisions in support of the group's assertion and does not identify the source of the complaint.
Attorneys for Americans United close the letter by saying "(the) cross displays and the various other religious displays in the chapel plainly violate the law. Please remove them," before asking the university to respond within 30 days advising the group how they plan to proceed.
“We discussed (the matter) with ECU’s executive council and with the general counsel of the Regional University System of Oklahoma and we are responding appropriately," ECU President Dr. Katricia Pierson said in a statement released Thursday. "ECU is doing its best to follow the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution."
Pierson said the chapel has been used by various religious groups and clubs, and for weddings and concerts and will continue to be made available for use by people of all faiths.
“We will continue to use the building as we always have, for all faiths," Pierson said. "We do not want to presume to embrace one faith over another. We support all cultures and attempt to make them comfortable when they are here. There were only a few items inside the building and we are looking at the feasibility of removing the cross on the steeple, but need to respond to the request for removal of religious icons from the chapel. We are exploring options for preserving the items.”
Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel was opened in 1957 — a gift to ECU from S.C. Boswell in memory of his wife. The colonial-style chapel was intended for use by campus religious groups and by community members for weddings and other special ceremonies.
S.C. Boswell was a longtime member of the then Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges, now known as the Regional University System of Oklahoma.