Alexander F.C. Webster: Justice silenced

More than 40 days have elapsed since the desecration of Christian crosses on campus by person(s) unknown came to light.

The office of the University President acknowledged the incident in a news release on Jan. 29. However, the official “Statement from The George Washington University Regarding the Defacing of Several Small Crosses” was a rather terse bulletin, the title of which, ironically, seemed to downplay the gravity of the obscene sacrilege.

The GW Hatchet published a news article in its next issue on Feb. 2 (“CD member defaces YAF crosses,” p. 1), which The Washington Post pursued in a brief story the next day. The GW Hatchet also printed a strongly worded “Thumbs Down” editorial on Feb. 2 and one short letter to the editor in its Feb. 9 issue by the vice president of GW’s chapter of Young America’s Foundation.

Nothing about the incident or its outcome in the student judicial process has appeared since in either newspaper or from University President Steven Knapp.

Beyond the initial flurry of denunciations, the utter silence on campus concerning the incident is astonishing, particularly for a university community that subscribes formally, in President Knapp’s own words, to a “spirit of mutual respect.” There has been nary a protest, candlelight vigil or public expression of sympathy by anyone connected with GW for the truly aggrieved parties. The latter group obviously includes any Christian student, professor or administrator for whom the cross is a sacred religious symbol, but I should hope that any person of good will also would be deeply offended.

According to The Hatchet’s news story, the president of the College Democrats acknowledged that one of that campus organization’s student members had confessed and “apologized” for the vandalism. But to whom? The College Democrats who the student had embarrassed? The College Republicans who had temporary custody of the 1,100 crosses originally displayed in University Yard on the occasion of the March for Life on Jan. 22? The entire University community? We may never know, because the identity and specific modus operandi of the perpetrator(s) – more than one student may be involved – remain a mystery.

No one in the GW community, aside from the perpetrator(s) of the offense, insiders with the University Police Department and the Office of Student Judicial Services and recipients of possible “leaks” from those offices, is privy to the final disposition of the case. Designed in part to protect students who may be accused falsely, the usual inconclusive conclusion of the so-called student judicial process in this case succeeds only in unjustly protecting the indisputably guilty.

As a faithful Christian and a member of this University community committed to the universal virtues of mutual respect, personal responsibility and justice – as well as repentance and forgiveness – I have no particular interest in knowing the name of the perpetrator(s) of the anti-Christian bigotry. I do hope that the adjudication of the case has engendered in the perpetrator(s) a personal remorse, perhaps even penitence.

However, in light of their track records in similar cases of real or ostensible hostility to particular faith groups, I do not trust the clandestine student judicial process or the fairness and justice of the SJS officials simply because they insist that we must do so.

Surely the sanctions or punishment meted out might be disclosed by the SJS without naming the perpetrator(s). Continued silence about this case will foster suspicions of a miscarriage of justice, flash a green light (or, at least, a merely cautionary yellow) to others on campus who may be contemplating similar acts of sacrilege or anti-Christian bigotry and preclude meaningful closure of this ugly incident for the GW community.

The writer is a professorial lecturer in the University Honors Program.

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