In my first post about the decision of William & Mary’s president to remove the cross from the Wren Chapel, I argued that, though President Nichol claimed he was acting to protect the sensibilities of non-Christians on campus, his decision more likely was driven by his own sensibilities. I pointed out that Nichol had made the decision without any apparent attempt to determine campus sentiment, and that his wife had attempted, as counsel for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, to force religious groups to admit and empower individuals hostile to their religion.
Last night, as a further indication of his bad faith, I noted that while Nichol claims that his decision was based on the special role of the Wren Chapel in the life of William & Mary and by specific complaints unique to the cross, he has now created a panel through which he apparently intends to conjure up new sources of religious offense to “others.” One candidate is probably the Chapel itself.
Now, Cesar Conda and Vince Haley, writing in the Weekly Standard, have presented the best evidence yet that Nichol’s removal of the cross was a “top-down” a priori decision, not a response to sentiment on the ground. Conda and Haley note that the language Nichol says is coming from community members — e.g., the cross “sends a message that the Chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others” and that that the college has “insiders and outsiders” — is the same language ACLU staff attorneys use in letters and lawsuits when they attempt to remove religious symbols from the public landscape. They cite chapter and verse from ACLU submissions around the country.
Moreover, Nichol himself was an ACLU chapter president in North Florida, and then a member of the ACLU state boards in North Carolina and Colorado. Thus, if there are “others” who are animating Nichol, they would seem to consist of ACLU attorneys, not members of the William & Mary community.
As Conda and Haley note,
Normally, when the ACLU seeks to remove religious symbols, it must either file, or threaten to file, a lawsuit. But if a leader of a public institutions shares the ACLU world view, one can dispense with the bothersome exercises of litigation and persuasion. Instead, they can achieve their ends by administrative fiat.
That’s why the William & Mary Board of Regents needs to take a hard look at Nichol’s decision and, if it doesn’t, Governor Tim Kaine should.
JOHN adds: Long-time readers know that this is an ecumenical site. I’m the only Christian in the group; Paul and Scott are Jews. I always appreciate the fact that Paul and Scott are among the most effective and vigorous advocates for common-sense tolerance of expressions of Christian faith. It is, I hope, a two-way street.
PAUL responds: Hey, some of my best friends are Christian. More to the point, the Christians in America, inspired by their faith, built the greatest country ever and welcomed Jews (and others) to the enterprise. I hate it when we pay them back by impinging on their Christmas celebrations.