Oklahoma’s attorney general has joined the many who have condemned the administrators of a public state university for caving to legal pressure from secular, anti-religion groups.
As Faithwire previously reported, Eastern State University officials generated public outrage for their decision to remove Christian symbols for the campus chapel after receiving a threatening letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Their failure to consult the ECU community before removing the religious items sparked a controversy that eventually led to a public apology from the school’s president.
“We moved too quickly,” ECU President Katricia Pierson said in a statement. “We regret not taking time to pause and thoughtfully consider the request and the results of our actions on all of the students, faculty and community members who we serve.”
This week, Attorney General Mike Hunter expressed his commitment to ensuring that this type of “mistake” doesn’t happen again.
In a letter sent to ECU’s Board of Regents, Hunter vowed to “defend the religious freedom of Oklahomans from misleading tactics such as the ones employed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State,” Campus Reform reported.
After the removal and subsequent restoration of the Christian symbols, Pierson announced that the school would be forming a special “committee of students, faculty, and community members who represent a diversity of viewpoints to study the issue.” The school assured that it would “not take further action until the committee has had ample time to discuss and establish policies or guidelines” for religious expression of “art, history, architecture, study, and areas of worship on campus.”
But Hunter fears that such a committee might not be sufficient for guarding the religious liberty of ECU students and faculty. In light of this, his letter to the Board of Regents insists that all matters regarding the atheist group’s demand to remove religious items from the ECU chapel should be referred to his office.
“In view of the fact that [the ECU] committee’s decision has a profound import beyond the campus of ECU for the State of Oklahoma and similarly situated entities, I am formally requesting that this matter be referred to the office of Attorney General,” Hunter wrote. “This will necessarily obviate the proposed review and decisions by the committee contemplated by [Pierson].”
Hunter’s initiative sends a bold message to Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other secular groups who have tried to quash religious activity at ECU.
Last month, the Freedom from Religion Foundation demanded the university discontinue its “sacred music” program on the grounds that it promotes “a sectarian religious message” and is therefore unconstitutional.
And while ECU administrators may be swayed by external pressure, Hunter has made it clear that any further attempts to attack religious freedom will be shot down.