Bible verses out at Canyon - Park Service says decades-old plaques improper

Associated Press
Arizona Republic

Jul. 14, 2003

FLAGSTAFF, AZ- The National Park Service has decided that plaques with biblical psalms at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon violate the Constitution and has removed them.

However, the Park Service decided one of the main trails into Grand Canyon may carry the name Bright Angel, and a number of the Canyon's formations can share the names of Hindu gods.

Maureen Oltrogge, spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park, said three bronze, religious-oriented plaques are no longer at Hermits Rest, Lookout Studio and Desertview Tower, all popular viewing areas for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The plaques had been on display for more than 30 years.

The Interior Department determined that the plaques, quoting Psalms 68:4, 66:4 and 104:24, were not appropriate for federal public facilities, Oltrogge said.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from supporting a particular religion.

Park service reports show that the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix placed signs on the buildings in the late 1960s.

Letters of concern and a recent inquiry by the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union prompted park officials to review the situation.

The Arizona ACLU contends a national park is no place for religion.

Oltrogge said an employee with park concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts removed the plaques affixed to buildings operated by the concessionaire last week.

The Park Service has possession of the signs but plans to return them.

"We are going to clean them and then return them to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary," Oltrogge said.

The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, founded and based in Germany, has its U.S. branch in Phoenix.

In a prepared statement, members of the sisterhood said they were shocked.

"We were stunned when we heard the news that our three scripture plaques at the Grand Canyon were suddenly removed. These plaques have inspired many of the awe-struck beholders to admire and acknowledge the creator of this majestic landscape spread before their eyes," they said in the statement.


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