Skip to comments.Ten Commandments May Get New Home in Cheyenne: Phelps' Threat Spurs Plan to Relocate Monument
Posted on 11/08/2003 8:18:50 AM PST by Theodore R.
Monument may get new home Phelps' threat spurs mayor's plan to relocate Ten Commandments
By Michelle Dynes email@example.com Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CHEYENNE - A City Council resolution has been drafted to remove a Ten Commandments monument from Lion's Park.
Mayor Jack Spiker presented the document at a news conference Friday. It will be offered to the City Council on Monday.
Since this only will be the introduction of the measure, the council will not hold a discussion on it. It will be passed on to the Committee of the Whole for a recommendation.
Spiker said the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Wyoming, has "indicated the Ten Commandments as a religious document." He added that the courts have determined it is illegal to place religious documents on public property.
"It's violating some laws having this document up," he said.
The monument was presented to the city by the Wyoming state convention of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Auxiliary in June 1970. Spiker said the group presented a number of these monuments to cities across the country.
Having the monument in Lion's Park has "just opened the door" to potential problems, he said.
That problem has arrived in the form of a letter dated Nov. 4 from the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church. It requests another religious monument be placed in the park.
Phelps' proposed memorial would be a bronze plaque on a granite monument inscribed with: "Matthew Shepard Entered Hell Oct. 12, 1998 at age 21 In Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination' Leviticus 18:22."
Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming student killed in 1998.
Spiker said, "It is the mindset of this community, and certainly the mindset of this governing body, that we are not open to that (monument)."
He added the city does not want to "advocate hate or anything along those lines."
The resolution proposes remodeling Constitutional Square, located between the City Building and the Cox Parking Garage, into a Cornerstones of Law and Liberty Square "which displays and celebrates the historical foundations of our law and liberty."
Council President Tom Scherr said this is "an appropriate way to preserve what we have."
City attorney Mike Basom said the monument in the park conveys a religious message. He added the city "can't do anything that addresses one religion or any religion, for that fact."
But he said the Ten Commandments monument can be displayed for its historical significance as one of the foundations of modern law. But such displays must be specifically tailored to meet that requirement, he added.
"This is a viable resolution," he said.
Spiker said the city already has the funding to remodel the site. Constitution Square never was finished, but $12,000 had been set aside for the project. He said the city was in the process of updating the square when the city encountered the issue with the Ten Commandments.
But Phelps said the resolution simply is a ploy to ensure his proposed monument doesn't get put in the city's park. He said the position of the Ten Commandments was fine for 33 years, and now there is a problem because city officials have been confronted with a different religious message.
"If you have one message up in a city-run facility, you have to put up others," he said. "This is too little, too late."
He said he will be in contact with the city and may take legal action.
Even though the Ten Commandments may be moved under the resolution, it still would be placed on public property, said Linda Burt, executive director of the Wyoming branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
She said the stance of the ACLU is for a complete separation of church and state. The best place for the monument is in a churchyard on private property, she said.
While the courts have determined that the creation of these kinds of plazas is acceptable, she said, "my belief is that the Ten Commandments is not a cornerstone of law nor does it fit in an area that proposes to show the history of our country."
"It would still be the Ten Commandments," she added. "It still would be on city-owned property."