Antigay monument rejected in Idaho
December 10 2003 12:00 AM ET
Echoing the concerns of religious conservatives and gay rights activists, the Boise Parks and Recreation Board on Monday rejected a Kansas preacher's proposal to erect an antigay monument in a city park. "We're not surprised but it doesn't change anything," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and daughter of the church's leader, Fred Phelps, who proposed the monument. "They do not specifically get to target any message when they don't like the content of the message." Phelps-Roper said Phelps would wait to receive formal notice of the rejected
proposal before deciding what to do next. Phelps and his followers will be in Boise this weekend, she said, to picket a prayer demonstration at the Ten Commandments monument. Phelps asked the city for permission to install the six-foot granite monument in Julia Davis Park in November, saying his request must be granted because the park already holds a monument of the Ten Commandments. But after meeting in a closed executive session, the board unanimously rejected the proposal, citing the proposed monument's hateful message and a 1999 city policy directing the board not to accept any language that the general public would consider inflammatory.
The proposed edifice would bear the name of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old Wyoming college student who died in 1998 after he was kidnapped by two men and beaten into a coma. Police said Shepard was targeted in part because he was gay, and his two attackers were later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Phelps's monument would say Shepard went to hell because he was gay. Parks and Recreation commissioner Bryan Fischer said that, as a pastor of a local church, he believes that homosexuality is a sin. "But on the other hand," Fischer said, "I would fight with every fiber of my
being anyone who spreads the message that God hates homosexuals. It's not a message that we want to embrace, promote, or endorse."
Board members also cited the master plan for Julia Davis Park, which calls for no loss of green space within the park. "That's just a lot of silly words. We're talking about a couple of feet here," Phelps-Roper said. Phelps-Roper, who did not attend the meeting, said it is illegal for the city to pick and choose among religious messages for the ones it wants to endorse. The argument is valid, said Marty Durand, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union-Idaho. "We certainly don't like Mr. Phelps's proposed monument because the ACLU actively supports gay rights," Durand said. "But we have a problem with religious monuments in parks. The city either needs to allow lots of religious expression or none at all. It could be a monument of Mother Teresa, even, but the city should not be determining which religion is acceptable."
The issue has made strange partners of other groups as well--conservative religious leaders and gay rights activists have spoken out against the proposal. "You take a stand for what is right," said Jeff Love, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church. "Matthew Shepard didn't deserve what happened to Matthew
Shepard, and to celebrate his death is wrong. The message of Jesus Christ is always one of love, never one of hate." Bob Wallace, a Boise attorney, said he planned to propose a solution to city council members. "I'd like to ask the city to consider donating the Ten Commandments monument to the historical society. It could be moved right across the park and remain in the same general area," Wallace said. That way, he said, the city could avoid future requests from groups like Phelps's while ensuring that the Ten Commandments monument was still on public display.