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Ten Commandments fight shifts to Boise

House Blenders: “Radical” Russ is your barista for the next few days while Pam is on vacation for her anniversary.

I have worn away my keyboard lettering going rounds on the issue of the Christian Ten Commandments as a publicly-supported display of reverence. So it is interesting to me how the AmTaliban is reacting to the recent decisions on the subject. Lo and behold, my hometown of Boise, Idaho, pops up in the pages of the Washington Post:

Within hours of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, Christian groups announced a nationwide campaign to install similar displays in 100 cities and towns within a year.

“We see this as an historic opening, and we’re going to pursue it aggressively,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, which organized vigils outside the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo died this year.

Mahoney announced the campaign on the steps of city hall in Boise, Idaho, a case study in the political and legal complexities of Ten Commandments displays. Last year, the Boise City Council voted to remove a Ten Commandments monument, virtually identical to the Texas one, from a public park. The move sparked a petition drive and lawsuit by citizens demanding its return.

Brandi Swindell, director of the Keep the Commandments Coalition of Idaho, said Boise should immediately restore the monument to the city’s Julia Davis Park because, in her view, it is now clearly constitutional.

Now, I should tell you that I have a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-type relationship to Swindell. I went to high school with one of her cousins and I grew up with many members of the Swindell family back in Nampa (a exurban enclave in Boise’s neighboring, more-conservative county… and when you can consider someplace more conservative than Boise, Idaho, that’s saying something!)

She’s a young, pretty, charismatic leader in the Christian Youth movement. She’s made a name for herself fighting against women’s right to control their reproductive options, but she’s certainly no Constitutional law expert.

Another one of Boise’s defenders of the worship of granite graven images funded by taxpayer money and housed on public property is my anti-blogger, Adam Graham. We’ve developed an interesting relationship. I think of him as the evil “Radical” Russ from the parallel universe, sort of like Spock-with-the-van-Dyke* in Star Trek. He’s much younger (24, I think), based in Boise, and is one of those Compassionate Christian Conservatives who thinks Justice Clarence Thomas is the greatest jurist of all time.

He and I do agree on a few things (like Congress has no right to prohibit illicit drugs and Dilbert is so funny because its true), but we disagree on far more. But at least he’s smart and can form paragraphs without the need to add !!!!!!!!! and HAHAHAHAHA like most specimens of the species freeperus rightwingia. We’ve hashed this 10C thing to death here and here as I responded to his participation in the Keep the Commandments Coalition.

(Adam also recently got a nod from Slate’s blog review when he declined an invitation from Operation Yellow Elephant to enlist for Iraq, because he is (I paraphrase) “too fat and the Army wouldn’t take him… and he has flat feet.”)

So how would someone with a firm grasp of politics and law respond to Boise’s big stone Ten Commandments standing alone in a public park?

But Mayor David Bieter said in a telephone interview that it would be safer to leave the monument on private property, in front of the Episcopal church where it has rested for the past year.

“Our frustration is, it’s very difficult to tell what kind of display would be constitutional” in light of the Supreme Court’s split decisions, Bieter said. He noted that a majority of the justices emphasized the context of the displays, upholding the Texas monument because it was one of 38 historical markers and monuments around the state Capitol.

The mayor, a lawyer, said Boise’s display had been practically alone in the park. “A single monument where it was — I think we’d have a tough time arguing that was in line with today’s decision,” he said.

By all accounts, the Boise monument went virtually unnoticed for decades until it came to the attention of the Rev. Fred Phelps (a.k.a. “The Rotting Cryptkeeper™”), a Kansas minister who travels the country inveighing against homosexuality. Phelps argued that if Boise allowed one religious display on its property, it must allow him to erect a monument declaring that Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered in a hate crime in Wyoming 1998, is “burning in hell.”

Bieter said the City Council decided to move the monument so that it could reject Phelps’s application without risking a costly lawsuit. Eliot Mincberg, chief counsel for People for the American Way, which opposed the Ten Commandments displays in Texas and Kentucky, said he did not believe that the Supreme Court’s decisions would support Phelps’s argument.

Is that a supreme irony or what? The Rotting Cryptkeeper’s perversion of Scripture forced the city to remove a monument to Scripture.

My former hometown newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, has more to add to the story:

In Boise, the Elks donated the monument to the city and placed it in Julia Davis Park in 1965. Like the Texas monument, said Shaw, the Boise monument was not in a prominent building nor in a prominent location. But it was not grouped among other monuments as was the Texas monument.

“The Boise setting is in between the Texas setting and the Kentucky setting,” said Shaw. “It’s not prominent, (but neither) is it one among many.”

Brandi Swindell, co-chair of Boise’s Keep the Commandments Coalition, said the proximity of other monuments in Julia Davis Park — the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and the Idaho Black History Museum — would make a Ten Commandments monument there protected.

It’s a fascinating definition of “proximity”, considering that the Black History Museum is at 508 W Julia Davis Drive (inside the park, away from the Boise River), the Anne Frank Memorial is at 801 S Capitol Blvd (across the street from the park, near the river), and the Ten Commandments monument was inside the park, near the river, on the opposite side of the park from the Black History Museum. Each of those locations are about 750′-1000′ apart. See for yourself.

Swindell said Monday that the coalition wants a publicly displayed Ten Commandments monument, not necessarily the same display that existed before.

“Let’s make it constitutional,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a free-standing monument.”

So, then, th
e Ten Commandments are so important that you’ll get yourself arrested protesting their removal from the park, yet not important enough to warrant a free-standing monument. To “make it Constitutional”, it would have to be just one monument, equal in stature, among many that make reference to our historical religious heritage. Kind of like the carvings of Moses, Solomon, Hammurabi, and other lawgivers are represented on the Supreme Court building. Gosh, wouldn’t that mean you’re endorsing the view that the Ten Commandments are not THE basis of American law? Wasn’t that your whole argument for displaying the Ten Commandments in the first place?

It must take years of stretching and natural flexibility to perform such moral contortion.

* That kind of facial hair is properly called a “van Dyke”. A “goatee” is just the chin-stubble, a la Shaggy in Scooby Doo.

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