Saturday, June 29, 2013

Could Baker, La., Get Its Own Atheist Monument?


In 2009 former City Councilman A.T. Furr paid to have a Ten Commandments monument placed in Veterans Plaza, a city-owned park in Baker, Louisiana. The Baker City Council approved the placement, even though their city attorney advised that it was illegal. Regarding the placement of the monument in a city park, Mayor Harold Rideau said, “We’re a Christian-based community.”

That was not the City of Baker’s first brush with theocracy. In 2004 a city councilman tried to ban Halloween. In proposing the anti-Halloween ordinance, Councilman Fred Russell said during a city council meeting, “We are a Christian city. Jesus is lord over Baker.” Speaking in favor of the proposed ban, Mayor Rideau said, “That’s one day I don’t support. It’s not really a day you want to celebrate as a Christian.” The council did not enact the ordinance. Clearly, the majority of the council were either Satanists or people who didn’t want to force their religious opinions on the whole city. I’m not sure what would later possess them to approve the unconstitutional display of the Ten Commandments in a city park.

I followed the Baker Decalogue story four years ago, but I never heard whether anyone sued to have the monument removed from city property. I was near Baker earlier this month, so I stopped by to check it out. Apparently, nobody sued.



The monument is still there and is even more prominently displayed than I had realized. Resting on a stand placed directly behind the center of the “Veterans Plaza” sign, the concrete Ten Commandments hang almost over the top of the park name. On the plaza are a flag pole, monuments for the different branches of the U.S. military, and several stone benches. Each bench is engraved with the name of a different organization (presumably the business or group that sponsored the bench).


The park is also directly across the street from a public high school.


Nearby I saw a sign promoting the “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.” There’s also a sign with the names of “Baker’s Own Military Heroes” and the words “God Bless America” at the bottom.

The Baker Decalogue would be fine on a church lawn or on some other private property, but placing a sectarian religious monument so prominently in a city park that is supposed to honor veterans is an insult to all the U.S. military men and women who were not followers of that sect. It is also, as the Baker city attorney advised, a violation of the Establishment Clause. It’s not too late for the city to do the right thing and have the religious monument removed from Veterans Plaza.

Or, they could do what Bradford County, Florida, did. Instead of removing the donated Ten Commandments monument from their courthouse lawn, Bradford County opened the lawn up to anyone who wanted to place a monument. American Atheists took them up on their offer and earlier today Bradford County became home to the first atheist monument on government property anywhere in the United States.


After the unveiling of the monument in Bradford County, American Atheists President David Silverman announced that this was the first of fifty similar monuments that American Atheists will be placing on government properties throughout the country in places where religious monuments currently stand.

It will be interesting to see where the other forty-nine atheist monuments end up. Given Baker's recent financial problems, the city probably can't afford to pay for an unnecessary lawsuit that it would certainly lose.


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