Monday, August 11, 2003

Free will and classroom decor

Steven Den Beste recently wrote about a news story about the University of Central Florida. Evidently, there is a debate about whether flags should be placed in the classrooms.

This story reminds me of something that happened in the mid 90s at Georgetown University. There was a movement there to ensure that a crucifix was placed in every classroom at the Jesuit, Catholic University. The details are sketchy, but as I understood the story, there were those who felt that it was inappropriate to hang a crucifix in the classrooms because it may offend some of the non-Christian students.

Both of these stories make me feel a bit like I have fallen through the looking glass and into an alternate reality.

Perhaps I am overly simplistic but… Wouldn’t a crucifix be a standard accoutrement in a Catholic classroom? Why wouldn’t a state university have the US flag up? Heck, put up the Florida state flag while you are at it!

A bit of history here… I am an alumna of both a Jesuit and Dominican school and have attended Catholic schools from the age of 14. In every classroom I studied in both a crucifix and a flag was at the front of the class. There were also usually students from a variety of faiths and from a variety of countries. In each case, they knew when they choose to attend these schools that it was a Catholic, American school and could be expected to decorate accordingly.

Recently I returned to the small Catholic university that I attended as an undergraduate. There is now a fairly sizeable population of Muslim students who attend the school. When I picked up the school paper I discovered that there was talk of converting the schools Catholic chapel into an ‘interdenominational worship space’ and that the school needs to strive to consider the ‘feelings’ of our non-Catholic students.

As an alumna, if the next time I stop by my alma mater there is a ‘interdenominational worship space’ instead of the chapel I will ask to be removed from the mailing list rather than be bearing a check for the school. Instead, I will donate my money to the Mother House to assist the nuns who toiled to build the school and educate all who attended to the best of their ability in the name of Christ.

Perhaps we can view it as a victory of sorts that the most important thing some students have to be upset about is the decorating choices of their university. After all, they are not concerned that they are being denied their civil rights, as the university students in Iran are.

At the same time if the American flag or a crucifix offends them in any way they can choose to go to a school that is not affiliated with either the state, or a religious denomination that offends them.

I hope that the University of Central Florida chooses to place flags in the classrooms, and I hope that those who are offended by their placement consider that it is the ideals that the Stars and Stripes represent that ensure their right to be offended.


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