Culture vs. Constitution? Controversy over shrines unleashes emotions, arguments
By Kevin Keen. CREATED Jun 26, 2013
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The City of Tucson says statutes of Our Lady of Guadalupe aren’t going anywhere. Despite a complaint, the mountainside shrines will stay, and that has secularists, atheists, city council members and KGUN9 viewers disagreeing.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, sent Tucson's city manager a request to move several west side shrines off city land. The sites feature Virgin Mary figurines and they’re around the southeast base of “A” Mountain in the area of the county jail.
City officials refused to move them, telling KGUN9 the shrines pose no health and safety risks.
The foundation argued the shrines -- on public land -- endorse "Christianity in an extremely public way." Read the group’s full argument.
“That's an extremely foolish statement by whoever made it,” said Councilman Steve Kozachik. "I think it's bogus. I think the guy seriously needs to get a life."
The Ward Six representative rejected the legal argument the foundation's made for moving the sites.
“It's a shrine in the side of a hill that people go and put candles at,” Kozachik said. “That's about as deep as it gets. The city is not establishing a religion.”
Many KGUN9 viewers on Facebook agreed. Some argued the sites are part of local culture and history.
Viewer Adrian Durazo wrote, "Go back to Wisconsin and stop complaining about our heritage."
"And take your cheese with you," Barbara Duffy added.
The foundation reported the original complaint came from someone in the Tucson area.
Dr. Gil Shapiro is not that person, but is part of the foundation.
“Religious displays on government property have been held by the courts to be just illegal,” said Shapiro, a spokesman for FreeThought Arizona.
“Imagine if there was a monument to atheism that was put there,” Shapiro added. “Imagine the reaction of the religious community.”
Don Lacey, state director for American Atheists, said this case isn't about bashing religion -- it's about respecting non-believers and the law.
“You have to look at from the point of somebody who isn't steeped in the faith,” Lacey said. “A pile of trinkets out in the desert may not look like scared to everybody.”
Lacey also disagreed with the argument the sites are historic or part of Tucson tradition.
“Let's face it: something that's 20 years old isn't that historical,” the self-identified atheist said. “I have several cars in my driveway that are 20 years old. They're not that historical.”
Councilwoman Regina Romero deferred to the city’s legal opinion on the situation, but said, “A lot of this is very cultural and tradition. So, when do you stop culture? When do you stop tradition? I don't know. That's something we have to speak amongst the council.”
It’s unclear if this issue will be brought up at a Tucson City Council meeting.