What stands out most about the story of a Sonoma State University student who was forced by a supervisor to remove her cross for a campus event is not the principle involved or the publicity it has received. It's the ignorance.
There is no question that the supervisor was out of bounds in asking Audrey Jarvis, 19, to remove her cross necklace. There is no defense for such an action.
As a writer posits in today's letters to the editor, “If the student in question was Jewish, and he or she was wearing a Star of David necklace, would he or she have been asked to remove it by this supervisor?”
SSU Student Audrey Jarvis
The same question could be asked concerning a star and crescent — a symbol of Islam — or some other symbol of Buddhism, Hinduism or any other religion. In any of these cases, would the supervisor have taken such an approach? It's unlikely. But in any of these cases, the freedom of a student to wear such jewelry — without need of a religious accommodation — should be widely understood. The fact that it's not is troubling.
Is it evidence, as some contend, that political correctness is eclipsing our nation's historic commitment to religious freedoms? Perhaps. But more likely it's just evidence of poor judgment by one individual.
To the university's credit, it did not equivocate. It came down quickly in defense of the student's rights, issuing an apology, and the supervisor has done the same. Sonoma State also is treating this as a case of religious discrimination under Title IX in federal law and is conducting an investigation.
That's all well and good. But the university would also be wise to use this as a teachable moment and educate students, faculty and staff about how individual religious rights apply not only to one's wardrobe but to one's work space, living areas, areas of study, etc.
According to Jarvis, the supervisor for Associated Students asked her to remove the cross during an orientation event out of concern that it could be offensive to students looking to attend SSU. But in the process of putting their best foot forward, they stomped on an important individual liberty. And now Jarvis herself says she may not be back. It's too bad.
For a university that prides itself on its reputation for diversity and tolerance, it has some repair work to do.