Pastor’s viral video continues to fuel chapel controversy

East Central University communications and marketing staff have been inundated with phone calls, emails and social media posts from outraged groups and individuals inflamed by the social and broadcast media campaign of a local pastor.

Union Valley Baptist Church Pastor and founder of The Gospel Station radio network, Randall Christy, has waged an aggressive campaign to save the cross atop ECU’s Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel from what he has described as an anti-Christian hate group seeking its removal.

That campaign includes the sharing of a viral video posted June 29 to Christy’s Facebook page by more than four million people. In the video, Christy states that a crane is on its way to the university campus to “cut the cross” off of the chapel’s steeple. Christy said that information was provided to him by a university employee whose identity he refused to disclose, citing concerns about possible repercussions for the employee.

University officials told The Ada News no crane was ever ordered by the university, nor do administrators have any plans to take any action regarding the cross at this time.

The controversy surrounding the cross began June 20, when ECU received a legal demand letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State demanding that the cross on the chapel’s steeple, among other items, be removed. The group alleged the items violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

University officials initially confirmed they would remove the cross and other items to avoid a protracted legal dispute, but halted efforts to comply with the demand after widespread backlash attracted national media attention.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter entered the fray July 5 when he announced that his office would defend the chapel and its contents against any legal action taken by Americans United.

Hunter’s communications director, Terri Watkins, said while there have been no new legal developments in the matter, her office noticed an uptick in phone calls, Facebook and Twitter messages last week from individuals who thought Christy’s June 29 video was “something new.” She said the individuals who contacted her office were concerned that a crane was coming to take the cross down.

Christy said he has tried to stem the flow of calls and messages to ECU by asking followers of his Facebook pages not to contact university administration, saying he believes the university is “doing the right thing.” However, he also said once things go viral they become unpredictable and uncontrollable.

“I am just as amazed as anyone that this video has received over four million views,” Christy said Thursday by phone. “I do not want to be the enemy of East Central University. I admire ECU’s administration and the stance they’ve taken.”

However, Christy continues to urge his followers and listeners to share the video.

“The video about the cross on the chapel in Ada that is going around the internet … is a few weeks old … but we still need to share it because the fight is just starting,” Christy said in a July 25 Facebook post that was shared 150 times.

The video is also posted on The Gospel Station network’s Facebook page and, through that page, has been shared 108,502 times as of press time Thursday.

The Gospel Station network’s Facebook page is followed by more than 112,000 people, most of whom would have been presented with the video in their Facebook feeds as they sign in to the social network.

University officials said, despite the fervor of Christy’s followers, there are currently no plans to take any action regarding the chapel or the cross atop its steeple. No lawsuit has been filed.

A spokesperson for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said they have not yet received a substantive legal response from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. The group has been notified that Hunter intends to handle any litigation of the matter, should such arise, but Americans United Staff Attorney Ian Smith said that notice was less than a page long and contained no substantive legal response to their letter.

Smith said he would likely write a follow-up letter to Hunter if he doesn’t hear from him soon.

Smith called Christy’s description of the group as an anti-Christian hate group “total nonsense.”

“We’re not anti-religion in any way,” Smith said. “Our executive director is a minister. We do religious outreach work all the time and we have many members who are religious. That’s not what this is about at all.”

Smith said the group is trying to protect religious freedom by keeping “the government’s thumb off of the scale.”

“ECU is the state of Oklahoma,” Smith said. “And the state of Oklahoma cannot operate a Christian chapel. The state is not Christian. It’s not an atheist. It’s not Jewish. It’s not Muslim. It’s supposed to be neutral. All this does is create an equal playing field for students at that university.”

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