A "guardian angel" outside a public building in Genesee County Park, New York, will be moved to private grounds, following a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Foundation contacted park officials late last year on behalf of Foundation members who are county residents. The county initially suggested merely replacing the reference to "Guardian Angel" engraved on the base on which the angel rests.
The memorial was donated in September 2003 in memory of Amy Torrey, a local Republican activist, by her family, in conjunction with the Women's GOP Club.
In its original letter of complaint, the Foundation noted: "Neither our organization, which works nationally to protect the separation of church and state, nor our complainants, oppose in any way honoring this important member of the community.
"We and they object to having a religious monument on public property."
Wrote back Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the Genesee County Legislature:
"The choice of an angel was based on Amy's special collection of angels and was not based on religious conviction.
"The family was shocked to hear of your concern," she added.
After county inaction on the matter, the Foundation pursued the complaint.
"We continue to believe the angel statue itself, not just the 'guardian angel' reference, makes the garden look like a religious cemetery. Whether a religious intent was conscious or not, the presence of a large, white statue of an angel or seraphim (precisely of the type which is sold to be placed in religious cemeteries) injects a symbol of Christianity into a secular, publicly-maintained center," wrote Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
"The simplest resolution is for the Women's Republican Club to find a privately-owned spot to place this tribute to their friend and colleague. A secular cenotaph might be substituted in front of the Interpretive Center in Genesee County Park. That would give this beloved member of the community two memorials, one expressing her religious nature and interest in angels in a private setting, and the other, her love of nature, appropriately in front of the Interpretive Center."
Following publicity about the Foundation's complaint in August, Hancock asked the Republican Party to find a new location for the "Guardian Angel" statue.
The controversy made the front page of The Daily News (Batavia, N.Y.), which ran a long story--and several angry letters to the editor--about the complaint.
A county official told The Daily News, "Literally, it wasn't our battle to fight."
The August 11, 2005, news article indicated the angel will be moved at private expense as soon as possible.
"We are pleased that Genesee County understands how important it is to avoid the appearance of governmental endorsement of religion," commented Gaylor.
"Any violation which goes unchallenged creates precedent for other, even more serious violations of the First Amendment."
To thank the County for its action, write:
Mary Pat Hancock, Chair
Genesee County Legislature
Old County Courthouse
7 Main St.
Batavia NY 14020