Lawsuit Asks Removal Of Catholic Shrine (October 1997)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, its Denver chapter and principal plaintiff Julie Wells, are asking for the removal of a Catholic shrine from Cherry Creek State Park in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on September 23, 1997. Attorney Robert R. Tiernan is representing the plaintiffs. The shrine, a gazebo-like structure with seating, features religious plaques and photographs commemorating the 1993 visit of Pope John Paul II, who conducted a mass in the public park in connection with an event called “World Youth Day.” Plaques in the display use religious language and biblical quotations from Psalms and John. Prayer is depicted. The lawsuit charges that state funds helped to build and maintain the shrine and asks the federal court to order its removal with an accompanying order that its placement violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the State of Colorado, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Board of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, and various state employees and board members. The lawsuit asks for court costs and attorney’s fees. Plaintiff Julie Wells regularly had used Cherry Creek Park for recreation and for walking her dog. Since the erection of the Catholic shrine, she has visited the park less frequently, using another entrance less convenient and less safe, to avoid the Catholic shrine. Tiernan’s repeated requests to state agencies asking for removal of the shrine met with stonewalling. “The display unmistakably promotes religion and entangles state and religion,” Tiernan said. “People who wish to pray or meditate in holy places should go to the church of their choice and leave this beautiful park free from religion.” The papal mass, which attracted hundreds of thousands, was protested in 1993, both on state/church separation grounds and because of its major damage to the environment and species living in the park. The expensive environmental restoration of the park has caused additional burden to Coloradans, who had to foot the bill for much of the Pope’s Colorado visit and security. “Anyone who has ever been to Colorado has to know how fragile the vegetation is,” said Anne Gaylor Foundation president. “If people don’t respect the separation of church and state, they should at least recognize that creating a Catholic shrine is tantamount to creating a religious mecca in this public park, with additional resulting environmental damage. If someone ‘seeing Jesus’ in a tortilla or in a water stain on a wall brings forth thousands of religionists, think what this papal shrine could draw!” Counter-Monument Lawsuit Filed In a second lawsuit filed recently in federal court in Denver, the Foundation and its Denver chapter seek a counter monument to the Ten Commandments monument now displayed on the Colorado statehouse lawn. Jeff Baysinger, director of the Denver chapter, is the principal plaintiff. The Foundation’s proposed monument, of polished granite and of a size and shape similar to the Ten Commandments, would read: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” The words appeared in a display in the Wisconsin Capitol in December, 1996, as a response to Christian ceremonies and displays there. This spring the State of Colorado, however, rejected the Foundation’s request to place a freethought monument beside the Ten Commandments monolith on state capitol grounds in Denver. “If state governments persist in promoting Christianity, then they must expect to have protests and should be prepared to accommodate other beliefs,” said Anne Gaylor, Foundation president.

Freedom From Religion Foundation