The fight for the right to post biblical passages in public places has spread to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where three plaques quoting verses from the book of Psalms were removed from scenic overlooks.
The plaques are back at the canyon’s edge now, pending a decision from federal officials.
Inquiries made by the American Civil Liberties Union prompted National Park Service staffers to take down the markers in early July, on grounds that religious expressions do not belong in a federal park.
But after a public protest erupted at the instigation of a Los Angeles talk show host, workers restored the plaques July 23 and await an Interior Department ruling on the ACLU inquiries.
“The ACLU honestly didn’t do anything but raise the question, and the local staff reacted to that inquiry,” Interior spokesman David Barna said.
Calls to the ACLU by The Washington Times were not immediately returned.
The “praise plaques” quoting Psalms came down following the May court ruling ordering removal from the Alabama Supreme Court rotunda of a 5,280-pound granite monument that includes passages from the Ten Commandments.
Brown, foot-square Fiberglas plaques bearing Bible verses in white script have been posted since the late 1960s at three of the most scenic overlooks on the south rim of the Grand Canyon: Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio and Desertview Tower.
The donors of the praise plaques, the Germany-based Protestant nuns called the Evangelical Sisters of Mary, say no harm has been done by the more than 2,000 plaques placed in scenic spots around the world.
“Their whole purpose is to give honor to God for the beauty of His creation,” said Sister Mary Anne Hines, a spokeswoman for the order’s Phoenix branch.
Interior’s Mr. Barna said many religious symbols dot the U.S. park system, complicating the issue. Among them: a Spanish mission church in San Antonio; a chapel in Yosemite National Park in California; a Russian Orthodox chapel in Sitka, Alaska; and Devil’s Tower National Monument, a sacred Indian site in Wyoming. A 5-foot cross honoring war veterans in the Mojave National Preserve in California is the target of an ACLU suit.
“Structures like the chapel in Yosemite and the mission church in San Antonio are part of the history of the parks themselves and are considered part of the experience of that park,” Mr. Barna said. “It’s not fair to say the Park Service is against religion in the parks, because we have a strong interpretive program that teaches the history of the United States, including its religious aspects.”
Mr. Barna said many of these structures were installed years ago, including the plaques quoting from Psalms. Concessionaires of nearby restaurants approved placement of the plaques.
The Sisters of Mary says 450 of the praise plaques are posted in Switzerland, 300 in Austria and 1,000 in Germany. Hundreds more can be found in places such as Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and holy sites around Israel.
A book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the order calls for installation of the plaques.
“Like a divine seal, praise plaques now mark many of the world’s best-known scenic spots,” the book states. “Challenged by their message, people have turned back to the One who made the Earth so beautiful and who sustains it to this day.”