Committee studies history of cross at second meeting

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March 6, 2007

2:37 PM

The Committee on Religion in a Public University heard the history of the Wren Chapel at its second meeting yesterday afternoon as it began the process of studying the issue in order to later make an informed decision about the Wren cross policy.

p. In its first meeting Feb. 23, the committee determined that it needed information on the topic before presenting a conclusion in the form of a written report to College President Gene Nichol, who announced the committee’s creation in his State of the College address Jan. 25.

p. Most of yesterday’s meeting was spent learning about the chapel and the cross’s history from Director of Historic Campus Louise Kale.

p. The committee learned that the cross has been removed before. After Sept. 11, 2001, the cross was removed to create a quiet, welcoming space for students of all religions.

p. “Since then, the Chapel has seen an increased use of students just dropping by; it seemed to dawn on students that it was not a tourist part of the building,” Kale said.

p. Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler made this decision, and he called Kale to see it through.

p. “It was not seen as any kind of statement; it was very much a no-brainer,” she said. “It’s been done other times, such as for a World Aids Day service.”

p. The committee posed questions about the diversity of the chapel. Kale verified that the chapel has been used for gay and lesbian unions, and the cross has been replaced with alternate religious symbols for other ceremonies. Meese remarked that he had recently seen a 1966 picture of a Torah on the altar.

p. However, Kale has never been asked for the cross to be removed in a request for private use. The committee’s resolution to obtain more information led to the formation of two subcommittees at the last meeting — one to find appropriate speakers for the overall committee to hear and one to compile information on public university and religion policies. These subcommittees met individually since the last meeting and reported on their progress since then.

p. History Professor LuAnn Homza, who chairs the subcommittee looking for speakers, reported that they compiled a list of potential speakers. They presented this list to the provost, who approved it. If the invitees accept, the speakers will address the committee sometime between March 19 and April 6.

p. “They will provide a large intellectual and legal analysis of the President’s actions and the reactions to those actions,” Homza said.

p. Committee co-chair and Law Professor Alan Meese presented the data-gathering subcommittee’s progress. His group is focusing on other public and private universities in the College’s peer group, including Virginia state institutions, “Colonial Colleges” and public schools that have or have had chapels.

p. Meetings with student religious organizations included Wesley Foundation, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Catholic Campus Ministries and Canterbury Ministries.

p. “They were very, very helpful meetings; we saw a broad spectrum of points of view,” Livingston said.

p. The subcommittee will have a meeting March 6 with Campus Ministers United. The next meeting of the complete Committee on Religion will be March 21. It will be public, though not open to comment; however, at 7 p.m. that day, there will be another meeting during which public input will be allowed.

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