There are all kinds of interesting things we could be thinking about this week. Three Colorado women's' basketball teams made it to the NCAA finals. Baseball fans are starting to think about Juco. I'm anxiously waiting for them to finish the walking path along Horizon Drive. Spring is coming.
But no. The community's thoughts are concentrated on a piece of granite with some words which very few of us can recite in their entirely. Depending on your religious background, the granite tablet with the Ten Commandments carved into it is a religious icon of great significance which can be displayed anywhere, or it is a religious icon which has been placed illegally on government owned property. And then there are those for whom it is just a piece of granite that they are using to promote their own political and social agendas. It is not a question of what the words are, but where they are. The words are no longer the issue. The issue is political. And now the City Council has spoken.
The tablet will stay where it is -- for the present at least. It is to be surrounded by other hunks of rock bearing non-religious words to form a "Cultural Heritage Plaza," whatever that is. One wonders what the architect who designed the beautiful City Hall and its grounds must be thinking.
And to add to the confusion, a disclaimer is to be added to the tablet, assuring the unwary that they city does not endorse a religion. Of course it does, or it would remove the tablet from city property. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "disclaimer" as, "A repudiation or denial of responsibility or connection." Maybe Moses just went out for a casual stroll that day and found some rocks on the hillside.
To their credit, Mayor Gene Kinsey and Councilman Jim Spehar had the courage to follow the law. The Constitution of the United States, backed by a number of decisions by the Supreme Court requires church/state separation.
But when as a people are we going to learn that religion and government cannot be peaceful bedfellows? Throughout history they have been a fatal mix. This is the reason the Founding Fathers carefully gave the church and the state protection from each other in the First Amendment.
Although I have believed for years that the tablet should be removed, I could see some hope for some sort of compromise so that we could return to arguing about streets and bridges and stuff. But that was before the Christian Coalition of Colorado sent their questionnaire to members and candidates for the City Council and turned the whole affair into a pure church/state highly charged emotional issue.
With a couple of exceptions, including the one question about the Ten Commandments tablet, the questionnaire does not concern itself with the political stands which the candidates might be taking. Rather it inquires about candidates' and council members' opinions on the issues of pornography, abortion, homosexuality, gun control, issues quite beyond the scope of city government, but of concern to certain religious groups.
To the great credit of our candidates, they all refused to answer the questionnaire. Cindy Enos-Martinez went a little further. "Not no, but hell no," she said. Mayor Kinsey really said it all. "I'm not the chief spiritual leader of Grand Junction. I'm the chief pothole fixer."
No one is questioning the value or importance through the centuries of the Ten Commandments. They are a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most of us try to live by them. But the function of the City Council is not to plug religious views, but to keep the garbage collected and the streets fixed and the water clean and the police force trained and equipped-- and to obey the laws.
So long as that tablet is on the City Hall grounds there will be controversy, or at least I hope there will. Once more I quote Molly Ivins' report of a Texas legislator's reaction in a similar situation, "Yew CAAAAAAAANT trade the cross for a cookie jar."