Bow to Diversity Leaves Altar Empty

January 29, 2007

Author: Natasha Altamirano

Source: The Washington Times

WILLIAMSBURG -- The simple altar at the College of William & Mary's Wren Chapel befits the austerity of the Anglican tradition in which the school was founded. There are no ornate icons or stained-glass windows, just a few candles and an empty space where a brass cross once stood.

To some, that empty space marks the triumph of diversity over exclusivity. To others, it represents unchecked political correctness at the expense of free expression.

College President Gene R. Nichol decided in October to remove the Wren Chapel cross, unless its display is requested. Responses have been passionate, from campus discussions and newspaper editorials to an online petition and a debate this week between William & Mary religion professor David Holmes and conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza.

Mr. Nichol defended his decision Thursday night as students returned for the spring semester and the 313-year-old public school heard its first State of the College address.

"I modified the way in which the cross is displayed in the ancient Wren Chapel seeking to assure that the marvelous Wren -- so central to the life of the college -- be equally open and welcoming to all," Mr. Nichol told roughly 400 students, alumni and faculty packed into the college's Commonwealth Auditorium.

Mr. Nichol said the decision has received wide support but "many, many have seen it otherwise" and have asked him to reconsider.