THE head of the College of William & Mary has genuflected to the god of political correctness, and has needlessly offended many students, alumni, and others who respect history and tradition. Since the 1930s, the altar in the chapel of the Christopher Wren Building on the college s Williamsburg, Va., campus was home to an 18-inch cross. But in a misplaced quest for religious neutrality, President Gene Nichol had it removed in October.
This appears to be mostly a case of a college president having nothing better to do. Mr. Nichol claimed that his decision to remove the cross was an attempt to make the chapel more welcoming to all students and that he refused to compromise on the fundamental principle of equal access for all. Instead, he trampled on tradition in a place that is all about tradition.
The chapel is the site of ceremonies for incoming freshmen, graduates, and Phi Beta Kappa induction services, and it s where professors deliver their final lectures before retirement. It was originally built in 1732, the year George Washington was born, as an Anglican place of worship.
William & Mary is the nation s second oldest college; only Harvard is older. And like many colleges then, it was established to train young men to be clergy. Its graduates include Thomas Jefferson.
That distinguished heritage apparently meant so little to Mr. Nichol that he didn t notify alumni of his decision. Like most U.S. institutions, the college today is religiously and ethnically diverse. But the attempt to make the chapel more welcoming shows blatant disregard for the history of the chapel and its cross, and looks more like intolerance for Christianity.
The ongoing move to rid the national landscape of its historic religious symbols is an attempt to destroy our heritage. It would be wrong even in a nation of unbelievers and as wrong as removing the Torah from a synagogue or knocking down minarets at a mosque. The decision to remove the cross to embrace everybody is akin to ripping certain pages out of history books because somebody might not like what s printed on them.
Opposition prompted Mr. Nichol to permit display of the cross on Sundays, but it belongs on the altar. As before, when users of the chapel don t want the cross displayed, they can remove it, then put it back before they leave. Few have removed it. It just doesn t seem to be an issue.
As a noted liberal arts college, William & Mary shouldn t be a leader in promoting intolerance in the name of tolerance. President Nichol seems to have created a solution in search of a problem.