Agency removes Buddhist Stupa from national monument in Arizona
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — National Park Service rangers this week removed a Buddhist Stupa from New Mexico’s Petroglyph National Monument after spending a couple of years trying to reconcile park rules with freedom of religious expression.
According to a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Tibetan lama officially “deconsecrated” the stup, enabling it to be moved to private lands chosen by the local Buddhist community 15 miles away.
The Park Service inadvertently purchased the stupa — a ten-foot structure containing Buddhist relics — in 1990 while acquiring lands for Petroglyph National Monument. In 2010, the agency publicly assured local Buddhists that it would not move the religious structure.
That September, PEER asked the agency to review both the constitutionality of a government-maintained religious display as well as its consistency with federal land management policies.
PEER has been watch-dogging the Park Service on the issue of religious displays, criticizing the agency for a set of bronze plaques bearing Biblical verses at Grand Canyon National Park and the sanctioned sale of a book in park bookstores claiming that the Grand Canyon was carved by Noah’s Flood only 7,000 years ago.
PEER whether it was appropriate for NPS personnel to erect and maintain bronze plaques with verses from the Psalms at Grand Canyon overlooks. The plaques are sponsored by a Christian group called the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary.
“PEER is glad the Park Service finally cured a clear constitutional violation from public lands they are supposed to manage,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch. “The fact that it took the Park Service more than two years of flopping around before finally doing the right thing suggests that it would benefit from a national policy on religious displays.”
Also left unresolved is the nearly decade-long dispute over the sale of a creationist text suggesting the Grand Canyon was carved by a biblical flood just a few thousand years ago. According to PEER, two different Grand Canyon superintendents, seven years apart, asked for guidance from park service headquarters.
Despite the fact that park service policy forbids approval or sale of such a book in park-sanctioned facilities, various functionaries, including the current Director and two of his predecessors, have ducked making a decision.
“The Park Service should remove all religious displays, not just the Buddhist ones,” Ruch said, adding that similar indecision resulted in a case involving a large cross on a hill in the middle of Mojave National Preserve being litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The law and rules are clear; there is not a shred of legal uncertainty preventing the Park Service from making these decisions in a timely fashion. What has been lacking is Park Service leadership with the moral courage to make the right calls in the face of political flak,” Ruch concluded.