VAN SCOY: More religions, please

Luci Van Scoy

Right before the beginning of the fall semester Warren Blumenfeld, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, submitted a letter of concern to the Daily regarding religious symbols in the Memorial Union’s chapel.

He was concerned that the presence of a Christian cross was against the principles of a public university such as Iowa State, and suggested the symbol be removed to maintain the nondenominational and nondiscriminatory use of the chapel.

But this is a chapel, for whatever religious beliefs you happen to practice. Despite the ongoing debates over Christianity intruding upon our educational system, a chapel on campus is one place it should actually be present – along with other religions as well.

When the cross was installed in the 1950s, the “tyrannical” majority of Americans were living in fear because of the Cold War. This period of time also presented us with a new phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance, “under God,” just as “In God We Trust” began its life on currency during the Civil War.

The use of religion by the government to strengthen nationalism and morale was considerably effective and an important part of our social and national history.

So, when considering whether the intent of the cross in the chapel was to give privilege to Christians, it’s a no-brainer. It wasn’t because our Founding Fathers were Christians, or because, as many like to spout, our country was “founded on Christian principles,” but because of a historical context of a faith effort to revive the American spirit.

The use of religion by the government in cases like this is suspect, but there’s no doubt it helped a lot of people get through the hard times we can’t begin to fathom as young students today.

Our Constitution clearly states the boundary between church and state, forbidding the promotion of any religious practice over another, or lack of, by federally funded institutions. But at the same time, people have a right to a place of worship. On a college campus, and in a nation that promotes spiritual freedom, a small universal chapel is a practical investment.

It may seem like promoting religion over atheism, but there are many groups and places on campus you can go to experience a lack of faith. It’s only fair that those who wish to practice religion on campus have a place to do so – and more importantly to our principles, a designated place.

The only real “issue” with this chapel is the complaints about the preference of religion that lies within. Blumenfeld pointed out the cross, but initially neglected to mention the Jewish symbols as well.

However, neither one, nor two, religions in the chapel is enough. I would propose that the space be utilized as a place of full religious and spiritual enlightenment.

Now, Blumenfeld has already written another letter of concern that the prospect of trying to include all religions would be ridiculous, which leads me to believe the man is a bit more than a concerned observer – more like a crusader. The worst thing to do in cases such as this is to attack the religious rights of the masses. It causes so much more trouble than the problem is actually worth because people want to interpret things as liberally or literally as it appeases them.

Nondenominational is defined as a concept in which something is not restricted to a particular religion. The hasty and unwarranted attacks on Christianity as some kind of conspiracy – just because of the beliefs of the man who designed it and the national attitude at the time – are ridiculous.

The chapel can be made into a universal religious space that pays homage to the concept of the freedom to unite and worship whomever or whatever you choose. In fact, it would make a great project for those in the design schools. Maybe even history and philosophy majors could get involved in stocking the chapel with literature about the origins, diversity and impact of religion.

We can’t and shouldn’t deny the presence of symbols, in a space we have already designated for religious practices, to our students. It takes watchdogs on both sides to protect our freedoms, and we should be working together to enjoy and exercise them, not immediately disregarding them when someone gets upset.

There’s no need to take anything away. Making it diverse enough to satisfy everyone will probably never happen, and in the meantime, the work needed to reconstruct the chapel puts even more people off the idea. But there are willing people out there who want to help make their mark and give a voice to these efforts – we only need to tell them that they can.

Luci Van Scoy is a junior in anthropology from Newton.