I realize that I have been rather hard on the folks at the Baltimore Sun lately, but, you know, it's the local newspaper that's in my front yard every morning. It comes with the territory and I really think that this major daily needs a more systematic approach to covering religion news. The latest story to grab my attention was by reporter Jamie Stiehm and ran under the lengthy headline "A wellspring of city history to flow again: A long-overdue renovation planned for a neglected Annapolis landmark." It helps to know that Annapolis is, in addition to being the state capital, a city that is really into history and its role in the formative years of U.S. life and politics.
So here's the top of the story:
For decades, pedestrians and drivers passing Church Circle have hardly noticed the slender cross atop a shallow octagonal base, except as a traffic island.
Now the city of Annapolis is giving Southgate Fountain a second chance in its second century -- before it crumbles in plain sight. Using city and grant funds, the city will spend about $100,000 restoring the 1901 fountain to make it shine for the Charter 300 celebration, marking the tricentennial of Annapolis' charter, said Donna C. Hole, the city's chief of historic preservation.
There really isn't anything controversial in this story.
That's my point.
As a rule, mainstream newspapers tend to point out when tax dollars are used in connection with projects involving a cross and the public square (or in this case a public circle). And there are other religious connections in this symbolic site and the monument on it. As the story notes:
William Scott Southgate was a beloved Episcopal rector of St. Anne's Parish from 1869 until his death in 1899. He was considered one of the healers of the post-Civil War era, known for reaching out to the newly emancipated former slaves to establish a separate parish, St. Philip's Episcopal Church, not far from St. Anne's.
... Five churches, the Naval Academy Band and community residents all gave money to help build the fountain, city records show, an outpouring that has seldom been matched.
... According to city records, all sectors of the town showed up at the fountain dedication. Along with Episcopal clergy, ministers from other denominations, the Naval Academy Band, residents and public officials attended the unveiling of the public art, designed by T. Henry Randall.
Now there are all kinds of things that we don't know about this story.
We do not know if anyone has questioned this project. We do not know if those behind the fountain restoration effort have checked and, for whatever legal reasons, have already been told that this site is "secular enough" to be fixed up with taxpayer dollars. We do not know if the fountain is being fixed with city dollars while the cross inside the fountain is being repaired with private donations.
In other words, there may be a hole in this news story. There may not be. We do not know. I'm interested in why there isn't a controversy, just as I would be interested if there was one. Does that make sense?
I do know that, over the state line in Virginia, the cross that used to be on the altar in the Wren Chapel at the College of William & Mary is still making news. School officials are moving it back into the chapel, but not putting it on the altar? As the old saying goes -- location, location, location.
You may also recall that there was a media stink about the status of the Mt. Soledad Cross outside San Diego. That was a rather big news story, too.
Maybe the legal left thinks the Annapolis cross is OK. If so, I'd like to know that.
The copyrighted photo with this post is from the Sun. I could not find another image of the fountain and the cross online. If someone can find one, I will gladly take this image down -- if there is a problem.