On June 29th, 2008, University of Central Florida student and student officer Webster Cook was involved in the incident that has since become known as Crackergate. Mr. Cook, while trying to leave the premises of the the school’s Catholic Church with the un-swallowed bread that is believed by some Catholics to be Jesus Christ, was physically assaulted and restrained. Later, Cook filed charges against the Deacon of the church who had physically attacked him, and the Church, for hazing (the most relevant available campus regulation), which prohibits the forced consumption of food by a student. Cook also filed underage drinking charges because of the consumption of wine by the underage churchgoers.
But these charges were filed only after a series of charges were filed against Cook.
According to Benjamin Collard, Cook’s friend, “there were 3 charges filed against Webster Cook at the office of student conduct.
1-Disruptive conduct- this charge was very vague
2-Misconduct (this is very similar to disruptive conduct)
3-Providing false or misleading information to a university official (a member of CCM claimed that Webster lied about his identity. These charges were dismissed because members of CCM are not university officials, and cannot demand that a person reveal their identity).”
After being reported by PZ Myers on his blog, Pharyngula, this story developed legs of its own on the Internet, and in fact has probably had a long term effect on the debate, ever rising in prominence, between supporters and opponents of Religious Privilege.
Yesterday it was learned that the final stages of the Trial of Webster Cook … a student government affair … were over, with Webster acquitted. Last night, I received a reflective essay by Benjamin Collard, friend and sometimes co-defencent of Cook’s, describing his feelings about the incident, updating us, and discussing interesting aspect of the politics behind Crackergate.
Mr Collard tells us that the trial consisted of a panel of 2 students and 2 administrators selected to decide innocence or guilt….
During the trial witnesses were called into the room with Webster and the panel and they were instructed to give their account of what happened on June 29th. The panel had the ability to ask questions of the witnesses ( I cannot say what questions were asked because I was not in the room) in order to come to an understanding of what happened. After all of the witnesses made statements, and Webster gave a closing statement, the panel met in private and they came to a decision of degree of punishment or not in violation of the charges. Webster was found not in violation of the charges. … I do not think that Webster will make a statement about this event until he has had a decent amount of time to reflect.
Please read Mr. Collard’s words:
“The ‘Eucharist Scandal’ has finally come to an end and all charges against me and Webster Cook have been dismissed. I am very upset (and have been for the past 40+ days) that people such as Bill Donohue, the Bishop of Orlando, and many members of the catholic community have decided to make statements regarding this situation without having a conversation with myself or Webster. Bill Donohue and the Bishop are seen as leaders in the catholic community and when they decided to make statements about this issue to the press and to the student conduct board, they caused long term harm to Webster’s reputation. It is unfortunate that these people decided to make statements without having a conversation with Mr. Cook regarding this situation. If they had taken the time to place a simple phone call or schedule a meeting with Mr. Cook, they would realize that this situation was a misunderstanding and not a protest or an attempt to upset the catholic community.
It should be noted that the Catholic League did not seek forgiveness or understanding in this situation instead they sought punishment.
Catholic Campus Ministries (CCM) was willing to allow a person (myself) who did not have any direct involvement in this situation, to face disciplinary actions. The threat of disciplinary actions and the implication that I was involved in this situation has caused my family, my friends, and myself to experience an extreme amount of undue stress. Association with this event has also caused irreparable damage to my reputation. I am very upset that members of CCM knew that I did not have any involvement in this situation, and decided not to speak on my behalf to have the charges dismissed. It is upsetting to know that an organization would not say anything to protect someone who they knew was innocent. It was reassuring that employees at the Office of Student Conduct were interested in investigating this matter in order to find truth. I am very happy that the person from the Office of Student Conduct who spoke to me was willing to hear what I had to say in order to develop an understanding of what happened during the mass on June 29. I feel fortunate that I was treated in a fair manner by the Office of Student Conduct.
I would like to point out that the student conduct charges against Mr. Cook were filed by Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson was not in attendance during the mass on June 29. Andrew Johnson is a member of University of CentralFlorida’s Student Government Association (UCF’s SGA) and is a political rival of Mr. Cook. I don’t want to speculate about the reasons that Andrew Johnson filed the charges against Mr. Cook, but it was unfortunate for all parties that were involved (in the incident that occurred at the June 29 mass), that Andrew Johnson decided to involve himself.
Webster was told that charges were filed against him at the Office of Student Conduct but he was not told who filed the charges and assumed that CCM filed the charges. Webster in turn filed charges against CCM for physically attacking him. Before the charges were filed Webster was planning on talking to leaders of CCM to discuss the matter and return the Eucharist.
Without the involvement of Andrew Johnson, charges would not have been filed against CCM. Webster would have met with leaders of CCM and discussed the misunderstanding and would have returned the Eucharist at the next CCM event. The news would not have covered this event because their initial focus was the hazing and physical abuse charges that were filed against CCM. The most unfortunate part of this situation is that a third party decided to involve themselves in this matter and agitate both parties who WERE involved in this incident.
Going forward- It is my hope that in situations such as this one (where party A feels party B is being intolerant, and party B feels that the party A is being insensitive), people will be able to sit down and talk to each other and work out their problems and seek understanding.
This may be cliche, but the catholic league should consult the WWJD bracelets that became popular during the 1990′s. For some reason I am having trouble picturing Jesus, lobbying a school board to have a student expelled or suspended. When I think of what Jesus may have done in this situation- I picture a man trying to talk with, seek understanding from, and attempt to educate Mr. Cook regarding the incident, not a person who would seek vengeance if they felt that they were wronged.”