Nichol unveils religion committee

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February 20, 2007

3:32 PM

At the Feb. 15 Board of Visitors meeting, College President Gene Nichol announced the twelve people who will join co-chairs Alan Meese and James Livingston on the committee he created to examine the role of religion in public universities.

p. The formation of the committee, announced in his Jan. 25 State of the College address, comes in response to the controversy surrounding his decision to remove the cross except on Sundays or by request from display on the altar in the Wren Chapel.
Meese, ’86, is the current Ball Professor of Law at the College’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

p. Livingston is an ordained Presbyterian minister, Walter G. Mason Professor Emeritus of Religion and the founding chair of the College’s Department of Religion.

p. Seniors Sulaiman Bah, Arabic House resident and member of the Muslim Student Association, and Kate Perkins, President of the International Justice Mission, have been chosen as the student representatives on the committee. Both Bah and Perkins are members of the Facebook group “Support the Petition,” which advocates the petition stating, “Dear President Nichol, We…support your decision to make the College’s beloved Wren Chapel a more welcoming place for everyone in the College community by having religious objects available in the Wren sacristy for use on appropriate religious occasions.”

p. “I was chosen for the committee based on my involvement for speaking out that I didn’t think this was something worth making this big of a deal out of,” Perkins said in response to the seemingly disproportionate student viewpoints represented on the committee.

p. “We must consider that there are many other members of this committee — I know that at least one alumni is a member of Save the Wren Cross. There is no “counter” group to Save the Wren Cross. I have been involved with Our Campus United, but the mission of Our Campus United has been to bring the decision of the Wren Cross back to William and Mary and away from outside political influence. I was chosen for my involvement in the Christian community on campus.”

p. At the Feb. 15 BOV meeting committee member Robert Thompson, ’77, delivered a five-minute speech asking Nichol to permanently put the cross back on the altar.
Terry Thompson (not related to Robert Thompson) is a 1967 alumni and committee member who has signed the “Support the Wren Cross” petition. Committee member Lu Ann Homza, Associate Professor of history at the College, said, “Perhaps the most important attribute that the committee’s members bring to this dialogue is the ability to contemplate other points of view.”

p. The committee’s first meeting will be on Friday, February 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. in Blow Memorial Hall. The meeting will be open to the public, but the committee will not be accepting public comment. Co-chair Meese spoke about the committee’s nature and goals.

p. “We will have a website to both keep everyone informed and to accept input,” he said. “We will be bringing in a variety of speakers who will address the issues that we have been asked to examine. President Nichol not only asked us to look into the chapel and cross, but broader issues concerning the role of religion in a public university.”

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