'They don't belong here': Shrine opponents make their case to city
Both sides aren't backing down and, in the meantime, religious shrines on Tucson’s west side aren’t going anywhere.Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Jul. 10, 2013
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Both sides aren't backing down and, in the meantime, religious shrines on Tucson’s west side aren’t going anywhere.
Those who argue the shrines should be moved off public land made their case at Monday’s city council meeting. And, for the first time, the city answered questions about the complaint.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged the complaint on behalf of a local person at the end of June. The Wisconsin-based group wanted the religious shrines at the southeast base of “A” Mountain moved.
The city responded with a two-sentence letter, stating there are "no plans to move or remove" the items.
Local members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation showed up at the city council meeting Monday, although the topic was not on the agenda.
“In short, they don't belong there,” Don Lacey told the mayor and council during the public comment period.
“Our community is committed to provide the manpower and collect funds necessary to move the shrines to a more appropriate location, if requested,” said Lacey, Arizona's state director for American Atheists.
City attorney Mike Rankin told KGUN9 news staff had “evaluated the facts of the situation, determined that we did not have a legal obligation to remove the shrine.”
Rankin disagreed with the foundation's argument Tucson is promoting a religion by letting the shrines be.
“Because I don't feel that the facts of the situation result in establishing a religion or religious point of view or endorsing one. Therefore, we're not under an obligation to remove it,” Rankin said.
When asked about the cases the foundation cited in its letter, Rankin said, “There are a lot of cases out there on this subject -- on First Amendment establishment of religion. My over all read of those cases is such that I don't feel that we're compelled to remove it.”
KGUN9 Reporter Kevin Keen asked Dr. Gil Shapiro, member of the foundation and spokesman for Freethought Arizona, “Do you know if this could lead to something bigger? A lawsuit?"
“Absolutely,” Shapiro answered. “The Freedom From Religion Foundation is very intent on filing lawsuits when blatant violations of the separation of church and state are at stake. And this is one of them.”
The foundation wrote to KGUN9: “The initial decision by the City to let these religious displays remain is troubling. We hope that City officials will take their constitutional obligations seriously and take action to have them removed. … Our members will continue to oppose them and FFRF is considering its options."
Shapiro wondered if the city’s prepared to pay and defend its decision.
“As an experienced podiatrist,” he said. “I can confidently say that when people dig in their heels, that often times it's very painful, sometimes very costly, and quite frequently very unproductive.”