Images of gay rights demonstrations at the National Mall will be removed from a video display that has been running at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995, according to a civil service group. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said the National Park Service, under pressure from far-right religious groups, has agreed to alter the eight-minute video containing photos and footage of demonstrations and other events taking place at the Lincoln Memorial. The conservative groups asked that footage of gay rights, pro-choice, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations be excised because it implies that "Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion 'rights' as well as feminism," PEER said. The Park Service said it would develop a "more balanced" version that include rallies of the Christian group Promise Keepers and pro-Gulf War demonstrators, though those events did not take place at the Lincoln Memorial or the National Mall. "The Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups," stated PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. "The Bush administration appears to be sponsoring a program of faith-based parks."
Ruch said that the directive came from National Parks Service deputy director Donald Murphy. After the conservative groups complained, Murphy expressed concern about images in the video that showed same-sex couples kissing and holding hands, Ruch said. Some of those images include the 2000 Millennium March, which drew tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians and their supporters to the mall for one of the biggest demonstrations since the civil rights and antiwar marches of the 1960s.
In addition to the promise to edit the Lincoln Memorial video, several other recent decisions by the National Park Service allow the display of religious symbols and Bible verses--as well as the sale of creationist books that provide a nonevolutionary explanation for the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders--within national parks, according to documents released by PEER. This July, Murphy ordered the Grand Canyon National Park to return three bronze plaques bearing biblical verses to public viewing areas on the canyon's south rim. Murphy overruled the park superintendent who had directed the plaques' removal based on legal advice from the Interior Department that the religious displays violated the First Amendment. In a letter to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, the group sponsoring the plaques, Murphy apologized for "any intrusion resulting from" the temporary removal of the plaques and pledged "further legal analysis and policy review" before any new action is taken.
This fall the Park Service approved a creationist text, Grand Canyon: A Different View, for sale in park bookstores and museums. The book, written by Tom Vail, claims that the Grand Canyon is really only a few thousand years old, developing on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. "For years, as a Colorado River guide, I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time scale of millions of years," Vail writes in the introduction to the book. "Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the canyon, which, according to a biblical time scale, can't possibly be more than about a few thousand years old." One of the contributors to the book is creation "scientist" Gary Parker, who observes, "Where did the Grand Canyon itself come from? The Flood may have stacked the rock like a giant layer cake, but what cut the cake? One thing is sure: the Colorado River did not do it." Earlier this year the Bush administration prevented park rangers from publishing a rebuttal to the book for use by interpretive staff and seasonal employees who are often confronted during tours by creationist zealots.
The Park Service is also engaged in an extended legal battle to continue displaying an eight-foot-tall cross, planted atop a 30-foot-high rock outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve in California. PEER board member and former Park Service manager Frank Buono filed suit to force removal of the cross. That suit is now pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.