Buddhist Shrine to be Removed from National Park

Local Albuquerque papers noted that a Buddhist stupa was going to be removed from New Mexico’s Petroglyph National Monument because it was unconstitutional:

The National Park Service said Monday that park service will remove the ten-foot structure containing Buddhist relics from the park this week after getting an opinion from the Department of Interior’s solicitor general. The solicitor general ruled last month that keeping the Buddhist stupa violates the Constitution on established religion.

The story of the stupa is somewhat complex, as the NPS “bought” the stupa when it gained possession of the land from the original owners (after a legal battle) in the 1990s.  The Park Service didn’t raise the monument, nor does it care for it or even reference it.  The stupa simply sits where it did before the NPS bought the land.

While it has drawn similarities to Christian monuments on national land, there are some significant contrasts.  For example, the stupa was always intended to be a (private) religious shrine and place of worship.  The most public controversial crosses and even Big Mountain Jesus were built as memorials and in honor of the US military.

Still, the general logic remains the same:  It is quite a stretch to claim the presence of the monument constitutes an “establish[ment of] religion.”  To borrow a phrase, “it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” 

This is more relevant when you consider the stupa “was there first.”  Leslie Linthicum, one of the local authors who was first to pick up on the story, made an interesting point:

What would a legal opinion about the stupa mean for the Russian Orthodox church inside Alaska’s Sitka National Historical Park? To the plaques containing Bible verses on buildings inside Grand Canyon National Park? The chapel at Yosemite National Park?

Anybody been to see the Argonne Cross — in Arlington National Cemetery?  May want to get there before they tear that out, too, if Jason Torpy gets his way.

References to God and religion adorn much of the US national (public) landscape — as is expected in a country that finds so much of its history and heritage there.  If the government is going to start tearing out things that may be religious, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

At least it looks like they’ve got a head start.

Via the Religion Clause.