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Religious Icons in Public Institutions

October 4th, 2017


An Oklahoma university is the site of a recent battle over religious icons in public institutions.

An Oklahoma university is the site of a recent battle over religious icons in public institutions.

East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, recently announced that it would remove religious icons from its chapel. The university’s president, however, announced that she would first receive feedback from faculty, community members, and students. The president of East Central University went so far as to express regret on making the decision too quickly without the input from all of the valuable members that comprise the university’s population.

The Facts of the Case

On June 20th, East Central University received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State that claimed that the university’s chapel included Latin crosses on the top and inside of the building as well as a bible and a Christian altar. The letter additionally requested that the university either cover or remove these religious icons. An attorney on behalf of the group argued that no similar educational facilities offer similar displays of religious icons even though many educational facilities have religious sites that were created by gifts or private funds. Instead, the statement maintained that students should elect to bring their own religious iconography to the chapel. Other parties have asked the university to discontinue its sacred music program which is dedicated to the study of composition, hymnology, liturgy, and worship.

Applicable Law in this Case

There have been a large number of debates over the last few decades regarding the display of religious iconography including the Ten Commandments and Christmas nativity exhibits. It is lawful to have space that can be used by students for religious worship provided that the space is not dedicated solely to these purposes. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, however, makes it unlawful to display religious icons including crosses or bibles on property belonging to the United States government. In addition to the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause states that freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits the government from making any laws respecting an establishment of religion.

In a similar case, the removal of a cross at the College of William of Mary sparked significant debate until the cross was placed in a glass case. Not all individuals have agreed with the decision to remove this religious iconography with the founder of the Gospel Station Network remarking that these religious icons actually represent that all individuals are welcome. The director of litigation for First Liberty Institute has also commented that a federal precedent exists to maintain chapels in taxpayer-funded facilities.

The Aim of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

The display of religious icons is just one of the many issues that exists regarding the exact relationship that the church should have with the state. The Universal Life Church’s blog aims to describe the relationship between church and state and the ever-changing laws surrounding the issue.

(image courtesy of Daniel Tseng)

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