Judge dismisses Wren cross lawsuit
June 1, 2007
A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the College that called for the permanent return of the Wren cross to the Wren Chapel.
p. George Leach, a James City resident and alumnus of the College’s law school, issued his lawsuit last February, claiming that the removal of the Cross — carried out by College President Gene Nichol last October — impinged on his constitutional rights of free speech and religious expression.
p. Nichol — who was also named in the lawsuit along with the College’s Board of Visitors — said that he removed the cross to accommodate other religions. The cross was still available in the Wren sacristy for those who requested it, but was removed from permanent display.
p. Jerome B. Friedman, the presiding judge of the case, stated in his May 29 official opinion that Leach’s claims lacked standing, as the only claim to suffering was “pain and weeping.” Friedman said that the lawsuit’s claims were not sufficient to return the cross to the chapel.
p. “The plaintiff has not and cannot demonstrate that he has a concrete stake in the outcome of this matter, and therefore he lacks standing to make these claims,” Friedman wrote in his opinion.
p. Friedman also said that the cross removal did not violate Leach’s first amendment rights, as the chapel still accommodates religious expression.
p. “The Wren Chapel remains open for worship, the cross may be displayed on the altar at the request of the Chapel’s users, and nothing forbids the plaintiff from bringing a cross or a Bible of his own into the Chapel for use in exercising his religion,” Friedman wrote.
p. According to court documents, Leach was absent at his scheduled May 22 hearing for the case. He was to represent himself.
p. A March 6 compromise returned the cross to the Chapel, placing it in a glass clase with a plaque explaining the College’s Anglican roots and opening the sacristy for sacred objects of any religion.