Cross to be permanently displayed in Wren Chapel

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March 6, 2007

4:20 PM

p. The Committee on Religion in a Public University made a unanimous recommendation today to the Board of Visitors and College President Gene Nichol to return the cross to Wren Chapel permanently. The cross will be displayed in a glass case “in a prominent, readily visible place” with a plaque commemorating its history and explaining the College’s Anglican roots. The case will not be placed on the altar.

p. The cross can be displayed at the altar at the request of an individual but cannot be removed from the chapel upon request.
Nichol welcomed the decision.

p. “There has been a tremendous strain in our community over this issue,” Nichol said. “This might not be exactly the way I would approach it, but I think it is an approach which makes progress and honors the traditions of the College and the aspirations of its future, so it is one that I am happy with.”

p. Committee co-Chairs Alan Meese and James Livingston issued a joint public statement about their decision.

p. “We knew our short-term mission was to come up with a proposal that would allow this college to come together and move forward as a community. We are confident this recommendation accomplishes that goal. We now look forward to examining the broader question of the role of religion at a public university,” the statement read.

p. This is similar to a policy at the University of Virginia.
When asked about a $12 million donation to the College that was recently rescinded because the donor was unhappy with Nichol’s decision regarding the cross, Nichol said he plans to work to regain lost support.

p. “It is my charge and obligation to work hard to reach out and to create an environment and heal our relationships with all our alumni,” he said.

p. Senior Kate Perkins, a member of the Committee on Religion in a Public University, said she was surprised by the quick decision of the committee, which came after its second official meeting.
Both Perkins — a member of Our Campus United, a group that opposes the political nature of the controversy — and Meese, who said he disagreed with Nichol’s policy from the beginning, said they were pleased with the compromise. The unanimous decision came during a private deliberation after yesterday’s open meeting of the committee.

p. Meese said he didn’t think an open discussion on the cross could have occurred “in the public eye.”

p. “It was a very full and frank discussion yesterday,” he said. “These issues … touch upon very deeply held beliefs, very well-considered opinions.”

p. The most vocal groups on both sides of the issue have embraced the decision, signaling a possible end to a nationally debated controversy.

p. SavetheWrenCross.org released a statement praising the committee for coming to the swift decision that the cross should be returned to the chapel.

p. “We believe that the Religion Committee has acted in tremendously good faith and with the best interests of William and Mary uppermost in their minds,” the statement reads. “We resolve further to remain engaged in the future life of the College, especially in matters relating to protecting and celebrating its heritage.”

p. Our Campus United, a group that sought a quieter discussion of the issue and criticized SavetheWrenCross.org for using the controversy for political gain, issued a statement of full support for the decision that urged SavetheWrenCross.org to also accept the compromise.

p. “The kind of bold-faced negative attacks that have been leveled against President Nichol, his family and William and Mary serve only to degrade and debase an important discussion,” the statement reads. “The behavior of these politically-motivated activists has been shameful, and I hope they can move on and accept the William and Mary community’s forgiveness.”

p. The full text of the statement from the Committee on Religion in a Public University is reproduced below:

p. “The Wren Chapel cross shall be returned for permanent display in the chapel in a glass case. The case shall be located in a prominent, visible place, accompanied by a plaque explaining the College’s Anglican roots and its historic connection to Bruton Parish Church. The Wren sacristy shall be available to house sacred objects of any religious tradition for use in worship and devotion by members of the College community.”

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