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Bush’s Faith-Based Parks
A lthough President Bush’s faith-based initiative—one of the centerpieces of his domestic agenda—has yet to win congressional approval, ramifications of the proposal have been felt in a number of government agencies. The latest agency to take up the president’s faith-based call is the National Park Service. Recently, the NPS brought Christian displays to national parks and creationist books to the souvenir shops. It has also been reported that the NPS was considering removing historical information it found “conservatively incorrect” from historical documents and video presentations.
According to a late-December press release issued by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the National Park Service “approved the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books giving a non-evolutionary explanation for the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders within national parks.”
In addition, the press release claimed that pressure from conservative groups was causing the Park Service to consider editing a videotape, shown at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995, which contains images of demonstrations—including gay rights and abortion rights rallies—that occurred at the memorial.
According to PEER, the National Park Service also agreed to review footage of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Conservatives argued the protests implied “Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion ‘rights’ as well as feminism.” According to PEER, the Park Service “promised to develop a ‘more balanced’ version that included rallies of the Christian group Promise Keepers and pro- Gulf War demonstrators though these events did not take place at the Memorial.”
A day after the PEER press release, Planet Out, an online magazine reported that the “story had changed” dramatically. NPS Chief of Public Affairs, David Barna, assured Winne Stachelberg, the political director at the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, that footage of gay rights demonstrations would not be removed from presentations at the Lincoln Memorial. “It sounds as if the park service is getting pressure from right-wing extremists groups to drop images of the gay community and add other images,” Stachelberg told Planet Out.
The genesis of the current NPS controversy lies with a letter written last February by Kansas Republican Congressperson Todd Tiahrt. In the letter addressed to the NPS, Tiahrt “objected to the portions of the video that depict gays and a National Abortion Rights League rally,” Bill Line, a spokesperson for the National Park Service told Planet Out. Currently, Tiahrt is “in discussion” with the park service about adding scenes with the Promise Keepers march.
The alleged directive was the latest in a series of moves by the NPS to cater to the demands of the president’s conservative Christian constituency. In July, PEER reports, NPS Deputy Director 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.” The plaques were made and donated by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix, who live in a convent called Cannan in the Desert.
According to PEER, “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, Murphy apologized for ‘any intrusion resulting from’ the temporary removal of the plaques quoting Psalms 68:4, 66:4, and 104:24 and pledged ‘further legal analysis and policy review’ before any new action is taken.”
Early this fall, the Park Service also approved a creationist text, Grand Canyon: A Different View, for sale in park bookstores and museums. The book’s editor, Tom Vail, writes: “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. Then I met the Lord. Now, I have a different view of the Canyon, which, according to the Biblical time scale, can’t possibly be more than about a few thousand years old.” The 104-page book contains essays and observations from 23 “creation scientists and theologians.” PEER points out, “Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis.”
In a related legal battle, the Park Service is fighting “to continue displaying an 8-foot-tall cross, planted atop a 30-foot-high rock outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve in California,” PEER reports. A suit to force the removal of the cross, is now pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Bush administration appears to be sponsoring a program of faith-based parks.”
“In 1983, Wallace Stenger wrote, ‘National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.’ Twenty years later, National Parks have lost most of what once made them special. They are quickly coming to reflect the corporate, commercial, and pro-special interest values of the Bush administration at its absolute worst,” said Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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