Spirit Away Our Spirituality

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, a symbol of suffering and shame."

We have our own cross on a hill not too far away, a four-foot one erected by family members to memorialize John W. Blake who died climbing Horsetooth Rock on July 11, 1987. Director Margie Wait of the Colorado Chapter of American Atheists says it's "improper in a government setting." I don't like that reasoning and sort of hope the case goes to court.

The doctrine of separation of church and state embodied in our Constitution only applies to the creation or encouragement of a state-sponsored church. One easy way of dismantling that notion in Horsetooth Mountain Park is to let believers add a Jewish Star of David, a Nine-Pointed Baha'i Star, and the appropriate symbols for Zoroastrianism and Islam along with statues of Buddha and Shiva and a small Shinto shrine. Then there would be no connotation of a specific religion being condoned (or merely ignored) by Larimer County Government.

As a hiker and cross-country skier, what really irks me is Margie's assertion of the park being a government setting. I'd hope we don't downgrade all our public parks, monuments, seashores, forests, and wilderness areas to the same status as a Beltway building. A government construction such as a justice center, city hall, or tax supported stadium should reek of the essence of government far more than a rock-studded path meandering amongst spruce and pine. Seems like we ought to fight the lawsuit just to establish a doctrine of separation of city public places and country ones where you go to get away from civics and contemplate nicer subjects than politicians, organizations, and lawsuits.

Should we let anyone with a chip on his shoulder turn our public countrysides into the same tasteless pablum seen in government buildings and programs designed to offend the fewest people? Should we ban Easter sunrise services held on public land? I went to a peyote ceremony in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. We celebrated several gods and it was definitely not supported by President Gerald Ford (or his wife) so maybe that was okay. Is it all right if I commune with nature but not if I pray to a single deity?

A lawyer would say what I do is different than what a government does. But the government did not erect the cross, they have merely neglected to tear it down, much like the wreaths and crosses that mark deaths along our highways. They are easy to ignore, but are good reminders of daily perils. A weathered cross is so much nicer and subtler than an official WARNING sign. We shouldn't let Blake's cross become Larimer County's symbol of suffering and shame.

Of course, if we won the lawsuit, then the Parks Department would have to develop a policy to prevent spiritual detritus from covering the mountain. Perhaps they'd limit it to one icon per square mile. But they'd have to define what a qualified symbol is. Initials and a heart carved into an aspen probably wouldn't count even if she was a goddess to you, but then the County would be in the thicket of defining religions. Creating the morass of regulations would probably cost more than the lawsuit.

The Coloradoan editors have called on the Atheists to drop the issue and find bigger fish to fry. About all I can add is, "Amen to that." We can all help by praying, but of course, if we're praying for atheists, then forget the lawsuit, we've got bigger fish to keep from getting fried.