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Jun 8 2005

Tulsa Zoo: Battle Over Religious Displays

217ganesha.jpgOver the Memorial Day Weekend my family visited the Tulsa Zoo. While walking near the elephants we came across the statue on the left. Although I didn't know its name at the time, "Ganesha," I knew it was a Hindu religious symbol and that it stood out like a sore thumb in the secular zoo setting. Why is it, I wondered, that people who wouldn't in a million years think of displaying a large crucifix sculpture or a representation of Noah's Ark with all the animals marching two by two, have no problem displaying religious symbols of non-Christian religions?

The double standard among allegedly secular people in their attitude towards Christianity and other religions is a pervasive and growing problem in America. Schools won't hesitate to indoctrinate teach about Islam for instance, when they wouldn't dare teach an identical curriculum on Christianity. Statues of non-Christian religious symbols are erected while tiny crosses representing objective historical heritage must be removed from city seals. No one bats an eye at the large granite globe by the Tulsa Zoo entrance which proclaims the secular humanists' battle cry, "the earth is our mother, the sky is our father."

So, in the midst of, "why are you wasting a picture on that" from my better half, I snapped a photo of Ganesha to remind me of its incongruity in an otherwise excellent public zoo. As it turns out, the controversy over the Hindu statue would come to a boil just days later.

Family friend John Jones was quoted in the media stating, "we need to leave it to the display of animals, and the education of children about nature." Brett Fidler, Curator of the large mammals explained, "We exhibit [the statue] out of the religious context, strictly as a museum piece." I'd believe this if he or anyone else could point out a Christian symbol exhibited "out of the religious context" or "strictly as a museum piece." I don't believe this explanation holds water. Rather this is just another example of the double standard which holds non-Christian religions can be mentioned or represented in an innocuous manner but any mention or representation of Christianity, no matter how slight, is always inappropriate.

Rather than remove the Hindu icon, Tulsan Dan Hicks wanted a biblical account of creation added but zoo staff, not surprisingly, rejected this suggestion. The Tulsa Zoo says the belief that God created the animals has no scientific merit and that's why it's not mentioned at the zoo. Brett Fidler added, "we display things that have been proven through the scientific method and intelligent design has not been proven, to the point that it belongs at an institution like the Tulsa Zoo." One can only wonder how it is that Mr. Fidler believes that a pot bellied Hindu god with four arms and the head of a one-tusked elephant riding a mouse has "been proven through the scientific method"?

Despite zoo employee opposition, the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board voted 3-to-1 Tuesday to display the biblical version of the Earth's creation in an exhibit at the zoo. It'll be placed on a wall in the Time Gallery area inside the zoo's Arctic building and will include a disclaimer saying the display is one example of one widely held view of the origins of Earth. One can only wonder whether Ganesha will be given a disclaimer.

Posted by Don |


  1. #1
    Jay said on June 9, 2005 | Reply

    Excellent post!

    I have an interview with a former ACLU lawyer at my site that I would like for you to see when you get a chance.

  2. #2
    Dave said on June 9, 2005 | Reply

    I see your point here, Don, but I also disagree with it, and I'll explain myself. Would you expect anything less?

    In a country whose most common religion (in cases where people HAVE religion) is Christianity, a symbol from Christianity carries with it, for most of the people viewing it, a certain degree of knowledge associated with that symbol.

    In the case of Ganesha, on the other hand, I'd be willing to bet that over 90% of the people seeing it could not identify it with the religion with which it's associated. Of the remaining 10%, I'd be further willing to bet that 90% of them couldn't tell you what Ganesha represents. I know I couldn't, and I like to think I'm at least fairly erudite regarding world religions (Hindu is, admittedly, my weakest area of knowledge of the world's major religions, though).

    Is there anything on the statue explaining/educating/indoctrinating its viewers into the Hindu ways? I'd be stunned if there is. As it is, most people's interpretation, at best, is probably that they remember seeing a character that looked like it when Apu got married on "The Simpsons."

    On the other hand, a statue of Mary or Jesus or, to use your example, Noah leading the animals two by two, would instantly be recognized as a Christian symbol. And, for better or worse (I'd probably argue for worse--I do agree that the clamping down on religious displays is out of hand), it'd be thought to be an endorsement by a publicly funded institution of Christianity. I don't think that the statue of Ganesha has a similar effect on the majority of people. In short, because I have no idea what view Ganesha represents, I don't feel that a statue of Ganesha is imposing anything on me, whereas a statue of Noah and the Ark would at least make me think of that part of the Bible, whether I want to or not.

    I think you know that I say all of the above as a Christian myself, but also as someone who is proud of the traditions of seperation of church and state. It took me a LONG time to accept Jesus as my savior, and a large part of my resistance was the cries of victimization by Christians in the United States, when Christianity is clearly the dominant religion here.

  3. #3
    Don said on June 10, 2005 | Reply

    It appears then that you are advocating a formalization of the double standard that would put Christianity at even more of a disadvantage. Right now when all religions are supposed to be treated equally which has only resulted in Christianity being subject to a heightened level of scrutiny which other religions are not.

    Just imagine the situation where Christianity is given some vague ambiguous institutionalized second class status. The ACLU, anti-Christian secularists and George Soroses of the world would be falling all over themselves suing everyone.

    No thanks. I just want one set of rules. And, then I'll fight to have them equally applied.

  4. #4
    MunKy said on June 10, 2005 | Reply

    A religion is just your opinion. Don't take it so seriously. I mean, it's not like you care about my opinions. Just do what you gotta do, and stop trying to force your beliefs on others. Maybe you can get rid of some of these negative christian stereotypes. Most people see christians as being more forceful and unwanted as army recruiters. So do us all a favor and quit yer whining.

  5. Ganesha is a religious symbol and does not, in itself, represent a discrediting of scientific research as does a biblical account of creation. Displaying a symbol such as Ganesha, if it was located in proximity to animals from the Indian subcontinent, would simply add to the context of the animals themselves, serving as a reminder of the human aspect of their native environment.

    If "equal time" for Christian vs. Hindi "displays" is indeed the goal, why not display a christian cross in an historical context in proximity to, say, a display of creatures found in the Holy Land? My preference would be, however, to visit a zoo where religious symbols of any sort were not there to impinge on my experience of the wonders of the natural world.

    On another (and personal) point, I have problems with zoos period because I do not believe they are respectful of natural life. Some of the ones that strive to create the natural environments of their inhabitants are better but I still find the whole concept of a zoo repellent.

  6. #6
    Dave said on June 13, 2005 | Reply

    If you're going to advocate for equal rules for all religions, then do it fully, Don. Christianity, because of its dominance in the American "marketplace," has a distinct advantage over other religions to start with. If you're going to push for Christ next to Ganeesha at the zoo, then you need to push for "A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa," too.

  7. #7
    Don said on June 13, 2005 | Reply

    "Charlie Brown Kwanzaa"...that's funny. I love the dichotomy between one of the most wholesome American cartoon icons and a fake holiday celebrating a blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism made up by a domestic terrorist with felony convictions for torturing two women by whipping them with electrical cords, beating them with a karate baton after stripping them naked and placing a hot soldering iron in the mouth and scarring the face of one victim...but I digress.

    I'd much prefer, and the logical plan of action, would be to allow no religious symbols at the zoo. Instead, just make it about...oh, I don't know...maybe...the ANIMALS! Otherwise, we'd have to deal with Muslim this, Hindu that, Wicca whatnot and Charlie Brown's whatever. That would be a nightmare. Just leave the zoo to the animals and keep religion out.

  8. #8
    Dave said on June 13, 2005 | Reply

    Somehow, I knew you'd like that. I ain't a writer fer nothin'. :)

    And generally, yeah, I'd like to see religious icons kept out of public institutions, regardless of what religion they represent.

    Now you'll have to excuse me. "A Waco Family Christmas" is on ABC any second now.

  9. #9
    Dave said on June 13, 2005 | Reply

    And hey! When did you learn to spell dichotomy? Where's Don and what have you done with him?

  10. #10
    Siarlys Jenkins said on July 6, 2005 | Reply

    There was a time when statues from pagan religions could be considered as exotic relics, rather than religious symbols. Look at the Shriners, who were founded on the notion that it was good fun to PLAY at being Muslim. Now, Hindu, Muslim and other religions are too close to home to do that any more. I can't think of a Christian symbol that really fits in a zoo though -- which should be about the animals, and Ganesha certainly is an elephant. By definition, monotheistic faiths don't worship animal gods. Maybe the "Lion of Judah" in front of the cat house? (No pun intended). How about Jonah being swallowed by a great fish (NOT a whale, check your KJV). Let's keep it equal, but also keep it light.

  11. #11
    Carlos said on July 8, 2005 | Reply

    It's funny that Dave and Don mentions "Charlie Brown Kwanzaa", somebody actually made it at this website:


    I made the donation to get the dvd to see the rest of it, it's really funny, but in poor taste! The Kwanzaa Rudolph short is funny too, but reallllly bad!!!!!!

  12. #12
    shiva said on July 8, 2005 | Reply

    Hi Danz,

    I am a Hindu so I should know. Thankx for posting the picture of Ganesh(a). It is a beautiful piece of art made in the classic Tamizh style of Tamizh Naadu the state I belong to in India. This does not represent an animal it is clearly a classic Ganesh icon of the sort you will find in any Hindu temple as here http://www.tulsatemple.org/ in your own Tulsa. Ganesh is the God of first things you propitiate him before you take up any task - he is the remover of obstacles and the protector of the weakest of the weak and the most humble. Hinduism holds many deities (about 3.3 billion) sacred. However Hindus also believe that all deities are ultimately forms of the one supreme being. The relationship of all creatures with this Supreme Principle is the subject of millennia of debate among philospophers of the Hindu faith.

    I haven't talked to the people who run the Tulsa Zoo, but I am not sure if they understand these subtleties. As a Hindu living in a secular nation (as also being from India a secukar nation) I would not want any undue preference shown for my beliefs or anyone else's religious beliefs. I believe we can hold the two together - Respect towards people's religious beliefs as well as no favor for anyone's beliefs. The Establishment Clause made this clear over 200 years ago and I concur with it.

    Many Hindus have been wrestling with a different sort of problem over the last three years. You can read more about it here.http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/column.asp?cid=305899

    I am nobody to decide where and how an icon of Ganesha shd be displayed. And if it is done with insentivity all I can do is express my disappointment and hope that better counsel will prevail. I wish the folks at Tulsa Zoo had consulted Hindus in Tulsa before they decided to instal this icon. With all the controversy raging around I would rather have this icon taken away. Ganesha apart from being the remover of obstacles and the protector of the weak is a picture of contentiment and joviality. I would like it to be that way.

  13. #13
    rod said on July 11, 2005 | Reply

    Don: I'd believe this if he or anyone else could point out a Christian symbol exhibited "out of the religious context" or "strictly as a museum piece."

    Funny, in the two recent court cases concerning the 10 commandments at court houses it was argued that they were showing the historical relevance of the commandments, and that there was not any religious meaning intended. That is from the groups supporting the commandment displays before the US Supreme Court.

    Now, I don't for a minute believe that the monuments were being put in the courthouse for secular reasons. But that is what those groups supporting them claim.


  14. #14
    Don said on July 11, 2005 | Reply

    Your comparison is great. Everyone one knows the courthouse displays have an agenda other than being purely historical*. Just as the secularists running the Tulsa Zoo have an agenda in what they are willing to display and what they will fight to keep from displaying.

    Look what our Hindu friend shiva said above: Ganesha, "does not represent an animal." Rather, it represents a Hindu God. And the Tulsa Zoo proprietors didn't think twice about displaying it and now upon further reflection still defend the display. Yet, they fight with all their ability to keep anything Christian out of the Zoo. In my opinion, their bias and agenda is even more obvious than the courthouses displaying the Ten Commandments. At least the courthouse proprietors can make a rational argument in their favor.

    *But this, of course, still did not make the courthouse displays unconstitutional because such clearly does not rise to the level of "respecting an establishment of religion." Congress and every other governing body can pass all kinds of laws which regard or touch upon religion as long as they don't rise to the level of "respecting an establishment of religion" or prohibits the free exercise thereof. The absolute separation of church and state is not in the Constitution and therefore does not exist no matter how much the atheists and earth-worshipers want it to.

  15. #15
    Theodore said on July 11, 2005 | Reply

    On the other hand, I have not seen a single good exposition dealing with the SPIRITUAL meaning of the ASIAN ELEPHANT in a number of cultures without a statue of Ganesha. The reason to put it in a zoo near the elephants is rather to consider what are the values and virtues of elephants, that Ganesha has a head like one of them, rather than to promote the worship of Ganesha.

    Jesus Christ's animal would be the fish. Just ask for a nice ichtus symbol near fishies and we have equal treatment again.

  16. #16
    rod said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    I wonder why you keep talking about athiest and earth worshipers. Plenty of Christians do not want the US gov messing with their religion. Seperation of church and state is not an issue that is divided christian vs athiest.

    The seperation of church and state comes in part from the constitution and from the words of our founding fathers, who said that the intent of the first amendment was 'to build a wall of seperation between the church and state'. Since the SCotUS looks at the intention of the founders, that is where the words "wall of seperation" come from.

    What the zoo is trying to avoid is putting up christian propaganda. The intent is to put up a creationist display, which will then be broadcast as "The Tulsa Zoo supports creationism".
    And it is opposed by christians, also.
    From the article:
    But, opponents, including fellow Christians, argued there's a difference between religion and culture. And, there are too many differences just within the creation belief.

    "Therefore they're going to have to decide how and which of the hundreds of creation stories that are in the world including many dozens that are in the U.S. from the Native American people to include in that exhibit," says Reverend Marlin Lavanhar with Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries. "It's hard to create fairness when you're talking about this."

  17. #17
    Matt Dillahunty said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    There's an important point which has even been alluded to in Supreme Court rulings. The statue of Ganesh(a) is a piece of art which adds atmosphere to the environment surrounding the Indian elephants at the zoo. It contains no text. It doesn't, on its own, induce anyone to believe in Hinduism or even explain what it is. While it is, without doubt, a religious symbol, it's purpose there is not clearly religious.

    Ten Commandment monuments and accounts of creation stories are textual descriptions of religious beliefs - usually printed or carved verbatum from scripture. They aren't art. They aren't secular. They contain text who's purpose is to define elements of and induce belief in a particular religion.

    As an atheist, I don't have a problem with the Ganesh(a) statue. I also wouldn't have a problem with a statue of Poseidon, Zeus, Buddha or Jesus if it was simply used as an art piece to add atmosphere which is relevant to the historical or secular nature of a display.

    On the Supreme Court building, Moses stands with two tablets. There are no words, and he does not stand alone. He's joined by Confucius and Solon and a number of other representations of lawgivers and allegorical treatments of law and justice. I have no problem with that.

    I do, however, have a problem with people posting permanent monuments of their scriptures on public property - property which belongs to all. That, to me, exceeds the limits of the First Amendment. And while the Supreme Court seems to be sending conflicting information thanks to Justice Breyer, I don't believe that this issue passes the test even under the new precedents.

    I also have a problem with Creationists posting their creation story in public displays devoted to scientific evidence about our origins.

    That's not because I hate Christians or their creation beliefs, its because it's simply not science. I was a Christian for over 25 years. I even considered attending seminary and intended on joining the ministry at one point. However, even when I believed in God, even when I believed in the Bible's creation story...I recognized that it's not science. It's religion. It's based on faith and faith is believing in something without sufficient evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary.

    For centuries apologists have attempted to rationally justify their beliefs when all they ever needed to do was acknowledge that they believe it, based on faith, and rationality doesn't have to enter into it.

    I often hear cries of discrimination from Christians which absolutely baffles me. Christians represent over 75% of the U.S. population, their views are continually addressed by our political representatives and one could even make a strong argument (as Jerry Falwell recently did) that Christians are "in charge".

    What Christians seem to seek isn't equality, it's favoritism and when they are denied that favoritism, they cry foul.

    I'm in favor of public schools addressing Christianity in a comparative religion or literature course, in conjunction with other religions. I'm in favor of a class comparing creation myths from a variety of religions, though I think such classes are generally best as electives and should be made available during the final years of public education - when students are better able to appreciate the nuances involved.

    I'm not in favor of teaching religion in a public science class or displaying it in a scientificly authoritative setting like a zoo. Science class is for science and Creationism, even when it puts on the Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothing of Intelligent Design, isn't science.

    The Tulsa Zoo reached a somewhat reasonable compromise in a potentially delicate situation. By agreeing to include the Christian creation story along with other stories, they've dodged a bullet.

    But the gun that fired that bullet did so, in my opinion, for the wrong reasons and on false grounds.

    I'm not writing this to be combative, and I realize it's rather long, but I enjoyed your post and the replies you've received and felt the need to offer my two cents as well.


  18. #18
    Michael C. Emmert said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    Dear Danz family;

    Thank you for publishing a photo of the Ganesha statue on your website. As you may realize, there is extensive controversy on this.

    There is no "public" photo of the Ganesh statue on the web. Somebody from our group dug this up. It constitutes the only concrete evidence as to whether this is a religious display or not. Clearly it is.

    That's a cute baby picture!

    If you feel your privacy has been violated, you have my apologies.

    Sincerely, Michael C. Emmert

  19. As an atheist, I agree that the statue should be removed, as it's a religious symbol. I don't see the difference between this statue and, for example, the Ten Commandments.

    I wish that more Christians would speak out against the positioning of Christian symbols on public grounds, in the same manner that you have spoken about the Hindu symbol Ganesh here.

  20. #20
    Paul W. said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    It's not a double standard to worry about _very_ _frequent_ displays of Christian iconography on government property, but to be unworried about _very_rare_ displays of Hindu imagery.

    If Hindus had significant political power in this country, or if Hindu images were hundredth as common as Christian ones, I _would_ feel very differently. I'd be extremely leery of anything that could plausibly be interpreted as an endorsement of Hinduism.

    I doubt anybody is going to come away from the Tulsa Zoo thinking that it's a Hindu-run zoo advocating the Hindu religion, or that this is "a Hindu country" run on Hindu principles.

    But that is exactly the kind of thing many Christians want. They care about the monument on my (Texas) capitol grounds that says "I AM THE LORD THY GOD" precisely because they DO want to foster the impression that this is a _Christian_country_; they do want to abolish separation of church and state so that it will NOT serve as a check on majority power---i.e., Christian's ability to impose Christian principles on non-Christians via the government.

    Separation of church and state, like most rights issues, is largely about keeping the majority from imposing its views and its will on minorities. The difference between a powerful majority and a powerless minority IS supposed to matter.

    That's _not_ a double standard. It's a designed-in check on the power of the majority, to avoid the "tyranny of the majority."

    It isn't a double standard to acknowledge this and act accordingly. I don't have a double standard about Hinduism and Christianity. As soon as Hindus start to show any signs of being a potent political force in the US---as they are some countries---I'll worry about them imposing their religious dictates on me, in exactly the same way I currently worry about Christians. As soon as any significant number of people actually finds it remotely plausible that Hinduism is a potent force in American life and American politics.. well, _then_ I'll think it's important to disabuse them of any notion that the US government in any way endorses Hinduism.

    That said, I do see a problem with the Ganesha statue. I have a Ganesha statue on my private property, but that's different. (And certainly anybody who knows me would know I'm not endorsing Hinduism---I just think it's cool-looking.) If people can't _see_ the validity of the above argument about limiting majority power, or the harmlessness of tiny minorities, maybe we should give up on such "complicated," seemingly hypocritical reasoning and take a clear, absolute, hard line.

    I'd be happy to be even-handed about this and say Ganesha must go---_if_ the 10 Commandments monuments _are_ removed from the capitol grounds, and similar imagery is removed from similar government property. (But that's NOT happening. 10 Commandments monuments are staying, and more will be put on government property.)

    If the people opposing the Ganesha statue would concede that, I'd be thoroughly delighted.

    Until then, I'd like the worked-up Christians to consider a few things.

    First, the Ganesha statue does NOT say, anywhere on or near it, "I am the LORD thy God."

    Second, few people seeing the Ganesha statue know what it means, or care in the way that matters. When that changes, let us know! We secularists will get worked up, too---I promise.

    Third, Christian iconography on US government property is not only many times more common than Hindu iconography, but is _vastly_ more common--- the ratio is much greater than the proportion of Christians to Hindus in the US. So even if we didn't check majority power, as we should, by being evenhanded, we're letting majority do something close to a winner-take-all trick. The minority is not getting _proportional_ treatment, much less _fair_ treatment. That's doubly unfair.

    In the context of the Tulsa zoo, Ganesha is a _novelty_. That should matter. When he stops being a novelty act, we definitely _should_ worry. In contrast, Christian iconography is _not_ novel, or educational in any secular sense. Seen it. (I encounter hundreds of churches for every Hindu temple I see... don't you? Where I live, I can't drive four blocks without passing a church, or stop at a major intersection without people soliciting my money for their Christian mission.)

    Everyone sees the religious significance of a cross, and the significance of it being on government property---which is the only reason why anyone on _either_ side cares very much about it.

    So, sure, boot Ganesha from the zoo if you want to. Be a hard-liner about separation of church and state. _Make_my_day_ by conceding that zero tolerance is the only simple, workable, clear line---and boot the 10 commandments monuments from capitol grounds, too.

    I could live with that. If you can't recognize that in this context, and the current political and demographic climate, Ganesha is cute and harmless... well, great. Neither is "I AM THE LORD THY GOD."

  21. #21
    Jim R. said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    All this fuss over an amusing piece of art that adds to the atmosphere around the zoo's Indian elephants. If this bothers you so, then government-sponsored crucifixes, creches, and decalogues must make you apoplectic.

  22. #22
    Keith A. said on July 12, 2005 | Reply

    Paul W, I was siding with leave the statue up. But after reading your thoughtful comment, I am now leaning towards taking it down. While it means very little to me other than it is a symbol from Hinduism, it's still a religious piece. Zoos are places of science not open displays for religion. We need to have equal opportunity, after all.

    Don, your quote from above:
    "No thanks. I just want one set of rules. And, then I'll fight to have them equally applied."

    That's very chilling to me. That also sounds all too familiar as applied to other parts of the world by our own government. If that is the Christian mentality, we're all going to see the Rapture all too soon. The only sucky part is that no one's going to heaven. As an atheist, I totally expect this. Just not the “all too soon” part. =D

  23. #23
    Don said on July 13, 2005 | Reply

    OK, here goes...if it were 20, 30, 50 years ago and some zoo keeper put Ganesha on display, I would have absolutely no problem with that. So, what is different now versus a few decades ago. Nowadays the ACLU/commie/tree hugging liberals (the "anti-Christian crowd" for short) have their panties in a wad, aided by courts that are more concerned with prior decisions than the Constitution itself like a sick game of telephone where failure to hear the original message results in it being retold on down the line until it gets to the end and is completely different than it started out. If the anti-Christians want to use the courts to remove the tiniest of crosses from city seals despite their representing the missions that originally founded the city (most absurd example that comes to mind), then this is the rule I want applied equally. Note, I did not ask for the microscope to be applied, but if the anti-Christian crowd wants to apply it, I just want it to be applied equally. This is not "chilling." If anything, the original freak-out reaction to Christian symbols is what's "chilling."

    A note about the Constitution and the First Amendment. As I said before, the government can pass all kinds of laws which regard or touch upon religion as long as they don't rise to the level of "respecting an establishment of religion" or prohibit the free exercise thereof. "Respecting an establishment of religion" is a pretty high hurdle. The First Amendment could have easily, but does NOT say, "shall make no law respecting religion." The myth of absolute separation of church and state is not in the Constitution and simply does not exist except as a fantasy in some people's heads.

    Also, although many people want to ignore the fact, the belief in God is absolutely inherent in the creation and foundation of the United States. From the Declaration of Independence which mentions "God" before it states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mend are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." To the Bill of Rights which if you read carefully did not bestow rights on the people but, rather, recognized pre-existing rights which, as noted in the Declaration of Independence came from "God" and our "Creator."

    However fleeing England where the State and Church were one and the same, our Founding Fathers put two restraints on the government: (1) it cannot pass laws "establishing" a religion, and (2) it cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. I think we're in agreement that the government is not prohibiting anyone from practicing their religion (pot smokers and animal sacrificers aside). So the question is what is the threshold for government action under the first restriction.

    From the Constitutional Convention to both houses of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, all open with a prayer to God and always have. From our founding documents to our money to our monuments, the recognition of God, primarily Christian but not entirely, is inherent in the fabric of our nation. Nobody was harmed by it. Nobody was prevented from believing or not believing as they chose. And, with all the government entanglement in religion, it didn't remotely come near affecting "an establishment of religion." And, as I first pointed out, everything was going along just fine for the first 150 years or so, until we became a nation of hyper-sensitive victims. Imagine if we never had "In God We Trust" on our money and a Republican Congress and President decided to put it on all our paper currency. The anti-Christian crowd would go insane with allegations of violation of the First Amendment and the oppression of the government which fortunately, since we've had it on our money all along, we know is absolute hogwash.

    So, here we are current day presented with the Anti-Christian-Lawyers-Union which bullies cash strapped municipalities with multi-million dollar lawsuits to remove little tiny crosses which represent historical fact and aided by activist judges who make up laws which can't get passed though the legislature. Given the choice I'd put a stop to them and their ridiculous attack on Christianity. (And, yes, it is an attack on Christianity. The ACLU routinely refuses to assist Christians when their rights are stepped on and, likewise, will not attack government involvement with other religions such as in Hamtramck, Michigan, where the noise ordinance was changed to all Muslim calls to prayer to be broadcast over loudspeakers throughout the entire town everyday from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. Imagine how quick the ACLU would be their threatening to bankrupt the town with litigation if they were broadcasting Christian messages five times a day, every day.)

    Anyway, given that I can't get the microscope out of the anti-Christian crowd's hands, I merely advocate that their misguided zeal be applied to all religious denominations equally...and this includes the Secular Humanists which is just as much a religion as any other no matt how much they want to deny it. (And they deny it because they don't want to have to follow the restrictions placed on religions placed on them when they attempt to indoctrinate others in their beliefs.)

    It was correctly said that, our system is "about keeping the majority from imposing its views and its will on minorities." While this is true, it does not allow the minority to do things that the majority cannot which seems to be an underlying concept in some of the responses. However, the majority is able to do things though legislative enactment or action, which the minority cannot as long as such does not infringe on the minority's rights. Such as something as ubiquitous as choosing a national color or less ubiquitous but equally constitutional as printing on our currency, "In God We Trust." The minority can't do anything about either action and neither action infringes on the minority's rights.

    A final word about Ganesha. It is NOT an elephant. It is a Hindu God which merely has the head of an elephant. It's body, two legs and four arms are very much not parts of an elephant. As explained in my original post, I took the statue's picture because it was so grossly out of place. However, if I may mock my hometown, it would not surprise me if the zoo keepers were originally just ignorant of the statue true meaning. After all this is the town who's main pubic school system's symbol is nearly identical to a menorah.

  24. #24
    Siarlys Jenkins said on July 13, 2005 | Reply

    The truth is, animal sacrificers DO have constitutional protection -- look up Church of Lukumi Babalu Ay v. Hialeah FL. Scalia came down on the side of the church -- and rightly so. (Human sacrificers do NOT have constitutional protection).

    I would have to say that display of a Hindu god is either an attempt to propogate the Hindu faith or it is disrespectful to Hindus. Either way it should be removed.

    But to get back to a simpler way of dealing with things I like the idea of putting up a Christian fish near the aquarium and calling it equal.

  25. #25
    Paul W. said on July 14, 2005 | Reply

    I think you have a biased view of American history and American political principles, and of liberals and the ACLU.

    We're not all a bunch of communists, or mostly communists. We're not mostly atheists. Most of us don't hug trees. But we still mostly like separation of church and state.

    (Would you like it if I called you a Nazi? Surely you'd cry foul. Well, I'm crying foul. It should be clear from what I write about civil liberties that I'm no commie; if it's not, you should learn something about Communism.)

    Certainly many of the founders were Christian. Many weren't---especially the guys who actually engineered our form of government and wrote the Constitution. They were mostly deists, not Christians. And they revived and revised a pagan form of government, namely Athenian democracy. They said as much.

    While you're right that God is invoked in the Declaration, it's striking that he's not mentioned in the _Constitution_. (Except in the formulaic boilerplate phrase "Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven", which was the kind of pompous, rote recitation used in all hifalutin' legal documents at the time.) Funny how when the Founders got around to specifying the acual principles of our government, there's not a single mention of god or religion except to say that the government should stay out of the religion business.

    God is noticeably absent from our Constitution, as is any mention of Jesus or the Ten Commandments. (And, in fact, the Constitution reflects the principles underlying only three of the ten---because they are principles of essentially _all_ governments, including those that predate Christianity and even Judaism.)

    This cannot be an accident. The Constitution is extremely and strikingly secular. Absolute separation of Church and state isn't a myth devised by 20th century leftists---it goes back to "commie" fantasists like _Thomas_Jefferson_, who wrote of the "a wall of separation between Church and State." You might disagree with Jefferson, but at least acknowledge who you are disagreeing with. It isn't just the atheist commie ACLU and its dupes. If it's a fantasy, it's one with a rich and illustrious history.

    You might also want to familiarize yourself with the actual history of church-state separation issues, and more recent history of the ACLU.

    Church-state separation is advocated by many Christians and Jews, not just a bunch of atheist commies. Historically, much of the litigation about it has been by Christians, especially Catholics, defending themselves or their children from specificially protestant indoctrination.

    (That's also why Catholics have a big tradition of religious schooling. Before they had the clout to get specifically protestant theology out of public schools, they often sent their kids to specifically Catholic schools instead.)

    Even today, the situation is substantially the same. Much of the support for the ACLU comes from Catholics, liberal protestants, and Jews. Many of the plaintiffs they represent are in fact Christian. For example, in the most recent case I'm familiar with from Texas, about prayer in Santa Fe, Texas schools, the plaintiffs were mostly Christians and Jews who objected to their children being forced to listen to specifically Evangelical Protestant prayers at school functions.

    From this you might conclude that the ACLU isn't anti-Christian at all---it's anti-Protestant. Or rather, it isn't that, but it's specifically anti- Evangelical. But that's not true, either. It's not the ACLU's fault that most of the people trying to force their religious views on others, right now, in this country, happen to be Christian, and largely Protestant, and disproportionately Evangelical.

    Only Christians have the majority power, only Protestants are a majority unto themselves, and mostly Evangelicals have the will to push their views on others so much.

    The ACLU really does make an effort to defend anyone whose civil rights are substantially infringed---including Mormons, Jehovah's witnesses, Jews, Catholics, and even Evangelical Protestants. Even actual _Nazis_; the ACLU has defended Nazis and Klansmen as well. Not because anybody in the ACLU likes or respects Naziism or the KKK---I defy you to find _any_ ACLU member or lawyer who doesn't loathe Naziism and the Klan, as I do---but because the ACLU is a civil liberties organization. As such, it mostly defends unpopular minorities, because they're most likely to have their rights threatened. And it _does_ defend minorities that are very unpopular with ACLU members. I don't agree with all of the ACLU's choices of which cases to take, but I do very much respect its comment to civil liberties overall, _even_for_its_own_foes_. (When was the last time you heard a Klansman or Nazi defending the ACLU's politics?)

    One huge problem with anything but a hard line on separation of church and state is that without it, religious people will fight over WHICH theology the state endorses. They always have, and often either bloodily or with monetary corruption.

    Separation of church and state isn't just there to protect government from religion, but to protect religion from corruption by government. The founders were all too aware of what happened to the state churches in Europe, especially the Church of England. It became a corrupt _political_ organization addicted government money, sacrificing the integrity of its theology for a cozy relationship with the temporal government. It sold its soul.

    Check out Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, and the political context. The Baptists supported Jefferson because they were a weak minority, and the Wall of Separation was meant to protect people like the relatively poor and powerless _Baptists_ from people like the relatively rich and powerful _Episcopalians_.

    Separation of church and state isn't just for atheists, or _mainly_ for atheists, and never was.

    As it stands, religious liberty in this country is still largely about protecting Christians from other Christians who want to impose a different brand of Christianity on them. And to the extent it's about protecting non-Christians from Christians, they largely serve as a human shield for Christians.

    As soon as we give up on separation of church and state, the Christians will resume fighting about which brand of Christianity gets the government's Seal of Approval.

    Nobody should want that. Reasonable Christians don't.

    You should also get your facts straight about "In God we Trust"... it _hasn't_ always been on our currency. It was put there in the 20th century. By your own style of argument, it should come off, to restore the _historical_ form of our currency, which was traditionally _secular_. Likewise "under God" in the pledge, which wasn't there until the Red Scare of the 1950's!

    Please, yes, let's respect our actual history, and stop using currency and the Pledge as political footballs---restore them to their original secular forms. If you'd concede that, I'd be happy to concede that crosses can stay on city seals, IF they go back far enough and the seals haven't been redesigned much in other ways.

    Until then, maybe you should recognize that these things have _always_ been political footballs, for deep reasons.

    You might want to read _Under_God_ by the Catholic writer and historian Garry Wills. He's a liberal, but an ex-conservative (and former protege of William F. Buckley's). He's very familiar with all of this history, from several sides, and explains a lot of things very well.


  26. #26
    Don said on July 15, 2005 | Reply

    Perhaps I've been less than clear. I am absolutely in favor of a wall, an absolutely indestructible and insurmountable wall, between church and state. The disagreement, however, is where that wall is placed.

    You argue that "Absolute separation of Church and state isn't a myth." While I agree "separation" is not a myth, "absolute" separation is a myth. You sure won't find it in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. As I've explained, the First Amendment only prohibits actions by the government "respecting an establishment of religion." Accordingly, the government can do all sorts of things that touch on religion right up until the point where such actions affect "an establishment of religion." I'm glad you agree that the writing of the Constitution "cannot be an accident." Therefore it is no accident that the First Amendment did not put in place the absolute prohibition you advocate by leaving out "an establishment of" so that it read, "Congress shall make no law respecting religion." But, it did put in the qualifying words such that the wall that we both advocate is not placed at zero where you argue it should be but, rather, is placed somewhere further along at the point where the government's actions would rise to the level of establishing religion. Some words on our currency, a prayer before congress, the Supreme Court, a baseball game or a graduation ceremony falls far short of establishing a religion.

    You rely heavily on Thomas Jefferson. So let's see what Mr. Jefferson has to say about “God,” our “Creator” and the “Holy Author of our Religion”:

    I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
    --Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, and inscribed around the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
    --Declaration of Independence, 1776.

    Almighty God hath created the mind free...All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.
    --Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777.

    God who gave us life gave us liberty.
    --Summary View of the Rights of British America.

    Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?
    --Notes on the State of Virginia.

    As to the ACLU, I'm originally from Chicago and well aware of the work they did for the Nazis in Skokie which was spearheaded by a Jewish lawyer. Actually, once you listen to him speak, one can realize his actions were noble and that he was working for the bigger picture of protecting the rights of others. However, that was then and this is now. Looking at the ACLU's current body of work, the conclusion is inescapably that they have evolved into an anti-American, anti-Christian, pro-degenerate group. How can one defend attacking the Boy Scouts while defending NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) a group who's sole existence is for the promotion of child rape? While the ACLU may have had a proud past, anyone should be ashamed of being associated with them today. And don't point out an instance or two where they currently do good work, I'm talking about the whole of the organization’s current work.

    You state that I "should also get [my] facts straight about 'In God we Trust'" and that "It was put there in the 20th century." Respectfully, you are the one who needs to get your facts straight: "IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin." This predates the 20th Century by 36 years.

    Finally, you speak of "actual history." I don't think you'd like to get a close look at our "actual history" around the time of 1776. We were a far far more religious nation then and nobody gave a darn about the government's insignificant (by their standards) actions involving religion because they knew the Constitution was a restriction on government getting into the bigger picture of actually touching on establishing a religion. Nowadays the things that wouldn't have then caught the attention of the most radical atheist, occupy hundreds of God-hating ACLU attorney's (or their ignorant minions who toil away not knowing the master they serve). Nobody in 1776 would have had a problem with "In God We Trust" on our currency or "one nation under God" in our anthem, which is why they so easily got adopted when they were suggested. It is only modern day insensibilities that find such things objectionable combined with the modern day myth of "absolute" separation of church and state--which for the love of God does not exist!

  27. #27
    Paul W. said on July 15, 2005 | Reply

    I'm glad that we agree that there should be a serious wall of separation, and are just arguing about exactly where to draw the line.

    I assume you're right about the date on which "IN GOD WE TRUST" first appeared on _some_ U.S. currency.

    Please at least concede that even that is _closer_ to the 20th century than to the founding of the country. It hasn't, as you said, been there all along. And it wasn't _ubiquitous_ until the 20th century. By the kind of traditionalist argument you seemed to be making, about what was allowed when the country was founded, we could make the opposite argument at least as well---that we should roll back the prevalence of religious messages on currency to 1860 levels, or to 1789 levels, i.e., zero, in order to respect our historical commitment to secular principles of government.

    Conservative Christians often whitewash the actual history of these things, and you _seemed_ to be doing that.

    But more generally, I don't accept that everything that was permitted in 1789 is automatically permissable now.

    Especially when it comes to endorsing "God."

    One reason is that the founders created what was essentially a rough draft of liberal democracy, largely on Enlightenment principles. But it was a bit of a mess, with a bunch of stuff incorporated wholesale from British common law, etc. (Hence the 9th Amendment, which says that the explicitly enumerated rights are not exhaustive or priveleged.)

    It was assumed that a lot of lines would have to be drawn, and revised, to bring the overall system of government in line with the basic principles.

    I believe that endorsement of God is an example of that. In 1789, most Americans simply hadn't thought about things like polytheism and atheism much. They weren't on the radar, though many of the founders were philosophically much like atheists. (After Darwin, that kind of educated, philosophically inclined person often became an atheist, rather than a Deist.) And there were extremely few polytheists or Buddhists in America at the time.

    So America hadn't gotten around to thinking hard about what establishment of religion really means, in general.

    Note that the Constitution does NOT only prohibit establishing one Christian sect over another. It more generally prohibits establishing _any_ religion.

    I don't think that's an accident. Even though the main issue of freedom of religion for most Americans at the time was about infighting between Christian sects, the Constitution stated a more general principle.

    Roughly, that general principle is that if people are disagreeing about religion, the government should NOT take a side---each person has the right to his or her own beliefs, but the government should not endorse any of them, no matter how popular or unpopular.

    Consider Jews. In 1789, there were not a lot of Jews in America, and there were anti-Jewish laws that were not overturned for a long time. Why? Not because Jews didn't exist then, or because they didn't have a constitutional right to freedom of religion, but because they didn't have the clout to _assert_ that right. Their rights were not on the radar for most Christians, who hadn't thought deeply about the subject, and had a lot of misconceptions about Jews. (E.g., that they were racially inferior, hence deserving of inferior treatment on those grounds anyway.)

    That's largely how the history of civil rights works. Minorities step up to the plate and assert their rights, and people come to realize that old precedents are not as important as basic principles such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.

    Precedent isn't everything, and it isn't the _main_ thing. Some traditions must be abandoned when we come to realize that they actually conflict with more important traditions.

    These days, people are realizing that our traditional governmental stigmatizing of non-monotheists is _and_has_always_been_ in conflict with the basic principle of freedom of religion. We have a fair number of non-theistic Buddhists, polytheistic Hindus, and atheists in America now. And they are, rightly, asserting their right to equal treatment, specifically that the government not side against their religion, or lack of religion.

    I don't think that Jews should have ceded their right to freedom of religion, and were right to assert that the government should not endorse Jesus or penalize people who don't.

    Likewise, I don't think that non-monotheists, now, should cede their right to government neutrality about whether there is a god.

    And you might think that people are just quibbling about the occasional cross here or there, and that crosses _don't_mean_much_.

    But they do, and they must, if we are to actually _respect_ your religion.

    Consider Ganesh at the Tulsa Zoo. One big problem is that it _isn't_ labeled as a God. An important symbol from some people's _religion_ is being displayed in a way that can easily be interpreted as trivializing or condescending. (Isn't Ganesh CUTE and HARMLESS---as I said earlier, and shouldn't have; I didn't really mean it the way it sounded, which brought home to me just how problematic it is.)

    Now consider crosses. I am not a Christian, and don't take crosses as "seriously," in a certain sense, as many Christians presumably want me to.

    To me, they are usually somewhat _saddening_ because I know what they represent, and believe them to represent some important and dangerous falsehoods.

    On my more lighthearted days, they are just _quaint_ and even _hokey_.

    How would you like for me, a non-Christian, to feel about crosses. Should they be important, and evoke _serious_thoughts_and_feelings_, or should they be trivial, and evoke lighthearted condescension?

    If you think I should take crosses seriously, I can only respond _very_ negatively. I have years of education in orthodox Christianity, and I know what the cross is _supposed_ to mean to me. It's supposed to mean that God killed his son for my sins, and that if I don't _believe_that_ I deserve to be tortured forever.

    It is a threat of infinite torture. You can dress that up, and say that it's a promise of forgiveness, but that's forgiveness I can't accept. I just don't believe it, so I can only see the empty threat.

    Which is a weird thing to have my government put on buildings.

    If I _don't_ take crosses seriously, that's worse, isn't it? If I condescendingly _don't_ accept the message, and view it as a historical curiosity, and just a traditionalist token, would you _like_ that?

    Should I try to feed Ganesh a peanut when I'm at the zoo, too?

    I have to admit that a few crosses here and there, for traditional and historic reasons, don't actually bother me much. (But maybe that should bother _you_, if _you_ take crosses seriously.) I'm only much concerned when Christians seem to be trying to _increase_ the prevalence and dominance of their religious symbols on my (public) property, without corresponding representation of other religions or atheism.

    The Pledge is actually bigger deal to me, as I think it should be.

    When I was in public school, I LIED, every day for years. I said the Pledge of Allegiance, with it's 1950's era "under God" insertion, because I didn't want to make a fuss. I went along to get along.

    A couple of times, I objected. I disagreed. And I learned that even though I had the legal right to do that, some teachers are NOT very understanding, and many schoolchildren less so.

    So from then on, I lied, day in and day out.

    There is something deeply wrong with being coerced into professing religious beliefs you do not actually hold, isn't there? Do you want the government ensuring that millions of children will be pressured into a false consensus, effectively coercing them into religious _hypocrisy_? I hope not. It's bad enough when politicians do it---forcing it on schoolchildren is worse.

    Which brings us to the Boy Scouts and NAMBLA.

    I lied to get into the Boy Scouts, too. But the Boy Scouts pretty much has a monopoly on what it offers---not just camping and learning various things, but being _the_ organization like that that your friends are likely to belong to, too.

    I do think the Boy Scouts have a right to discriminate based on religion. It's a free country. But if they do, they should NOT get government subsidies or assistance, or special rights to use government facilities, such as school rooms and school's distribution of meeting notices. The government should allow them to do pretty much whatever they want, but not assist them.

    As for NAMBLA, do you seriously believe that the ACLU is pro-pedophilia, any more than it was pro-Nazi in the Skokie days? It isn't. There is a huge difference between condoning Naziism or pedophilia and defending people's right to _say_what_they_think_.

    Do you really believe such right-wing propaganda? Or are you actually more worried about something else, like maybe gay rights?

    The ACLU is a civil liberties organization. Nazis can _talk_about_ Jews deserving to die, pedophiles can _talk_about_ the joys of sex with children, and right-wing Christians _can_talk_ about taking Leviticus and Deuteronomy literally, so that we should stone half of America to death, including me, for being disobedient children, working on Saturday, or whatever.

    But there is an absolutely staggering difference between defending people's rights to say things and defending their right to DO them. You have the right to display a cross, and even to directly express the opinion that I deserve eternal torture, for example. But if you try to _torture_ me, I have the right to _stop_ you, and to hurt you in self-defense.

    When the ACLU defends pedophile's right to say whatever they want---short of actual conspiracy to do it---it is defending your rights, too.

    If we didn't have rights like that, _millions_ of the worst sort of Christians could be locked up for the things they say about what should happen to non-Christians.

    And I, for one, don't want that to happen. It's better to have something close to absolute freedom of speech.

    Paul W.

  28. #28
    Tom said on July 28, 2005 | Reply

    I think we should get the proposed "Tulsa Zoo Genesis Display" on a billboard just outside of Mohawk park. Anyone know Mr. Stokely?

  29. #29
    spurwing plover said on January 1, 2006 | Reply

    If this involved a christian cross the ACLU would be filing one of its usial ddiotic lawsuits buts its not so they wont get involved

  30. #30
    doug said on July 29, 2009 | Reply

    The zoo is a science facility and Ganesha doesn't challenge scientific theory. It also shows a novel aspect regarding the way some religions view elephants.

    Christian creationism has no value other than to challenge scientific theory.

  31. #31
    Don said on July 30, 2009 | Reply


    You say, "Ganesha doesn't challenge scientific theory."

    Did you say that with a straight face or were you laughing uncontrollably barely able to type on the key board? Ganesha is a four-armed, elephant headed, non-sectarian deities of the Hindu religion. What part of this sentence does not "challenge scientific theory"?

    You say, "It also shows a novel aspect regarding the way some religions view elephants."

    Yeah, kinda like a museum display about wood (trees, harvesting, processing, building, crafts, recycling, etc.) might show a crucifix because it would show a novel aspect of how some religions view wood. Ganesha's elephant head is a physical characteristic of the deity, it is not indicative of how a religion views elephants any more than Christ being depicted with a beard is indicative of how Christians are about facial hair.

    You say, "Christian creationism has no value other than to challenge scientific theory."

    LOL...my first thought is that we can't have that can we? A fraction of a second later the obvious fallacy of your comment became apparent which, obviously, never occurred to you: you ascribe the only value to a belief, that being to challenge something that didn't exist for many hundreds, even thousands, of years. Creationism didn't conflict with scientific theory when it came into existence nor for a very long time after.

    Your problem is that you don't really understand creationism and by that I don't mean the textbook definition of the term. It bothers you, so you put it into a box constrained by your own definition and context and then attempt to point out to others its flawed box-constrained nature. One of the least important aspects of creationism is its conflict with scientific theory but, unfortunately, that is all you can see and so, with your blinders on, you ascribe that as its sole value, both logic and faith be damned.

  32. #32
    Anon Y. Mous said on August 10, 2009 | Reply

    Wow. I always thought it was some kind of elephant statue. Never realized it was a Hindu god. And to me, the globe was just a fountain for kids to play with.

    I think the first thing to do is ask the Hindu community if the Ganesha statue offends them. If so, we can take it down and save ourselves a lot of controversy. Same for the Native American community and the globe fountain.

    If not, I don't think the statues are out of place. True, each has a religious meaning behind it; there's no doubt of that. But Ganesha's an elephant, and it gives a nice introduction to the elephant exhibit. It's even educational, in a cultural kind of way. And the globe's inscription, "the earth is our mother, the sky is our father", does inspire a respect for nature that the zoo encourages.

    A crucifix sculpture, however, has nothing to do with animals. Though I could see a "Noah's Ark", especially at the playground. The children would love it! And it would be a great addition to the family photo album.

    Seems to me it just depends on how much it has to do with animals and nature. Other than that, please keep religion out of the zoo. That's not what the zoo is for.

    One last thing. I know you were trying to be funny, but the crossed out "indoctrinate" before "Islam" was of rather poor taste. It's hard to complain that your religion is being put down while putting down someone else's. Let's have some respect for others, shall we?

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