After receiving multiple letters complaining that a cross was being displayed at a state university, Oklahoma’s attorney general has fired back, telling the group to stop sending letters as “we absolutely reject your demand to remove the cross.”
The cross and other religious items at the Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel at East Central University in Ada became an issue when Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the school’s president in June demanding the removal of “iconography.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter stepped in the following month and, after discussions with state regents and university officials, determined that the chapel violated no laws. Hunter said the AG’s Office would defend ECU legally if needed.
In early July, Hunter told the Washington, D.C.-based group that Oklahoma would not honor the organization’s demand to remove the cross and directed that any further communications on the issue be directed to his office.
“We notified them their directive was misplaced and pretty offensive,” Hunter told the Tulsa World in a previous interview.
In an Aug. 16 reply from the special interest group, its attorney Ian Smith notes case precedents and says “it would beggar belief to argue that a cross atop a chapel does not communicate a religious message.”
Hunter has responded by asking the group to stop sending letters.
“We have no desire to negotiate and ask them to conclude correspondence with the state of Oklahoma on this matter,” he said in a news release Wednesday.
“My office will not allow an out of state interest group to bully the university and the state of Oklahoma,” Hunter said. “The superficial demands the group are making have no merit or legal reasoning. We absolutely reject the demand to remove the cross or other religious material or icons in the church.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a 70-year-old organization founded to oppose federal aid to religious schools. Its activism focuses on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits state-sponsored religion, and on the individual right to both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
The organization’s staff attorney responded that Hunter’s Aug. 30 letter repeats his previous message of “threadbare legal analysis combined with childish name calling that he has then leaked to the press to make himself look good.”
“We are saddened that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has continued to prioritize political grandstanding over the requirements of the Constitution,” Smith said in an email to Tulsa World. “Since it appears that Mr. Hunter has no interest in acting professionally and talking to us, we will be forced to evaluate whether this is a matter that we wish to take to litigation.”
Hunter’s stance is that the chapel does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“There’s never been, in the management of the chapel, anything to require attendance or that promotes a particular secular view,” he said.
ECU says the chapel is available to students and faculty regardless of religion.