Ten Commandments debate draws respectful crowd
By GAYDA HOLLNAGEL | Of the Tribune staff
An orderly and respectful crowd of about 500 people turned out Tuesday night to hear a debate at Viterbo University on the role of religion in the public square. But it's doubtful that any minds were changed over whether a monument of the Ten Commandments belongs in a public park.
"I thought it was good. I think it's something the community could use a lot more of," Henry Zumach of Stoddard, Wis., said of the debate at Viterbo's D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership. The forum was prompted by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb's July 14 decision ordering the monument in La Crosse's Cameron Park be removed.
Zumach, who is among the 23 complainants in the lawsuit that sought the monument's removal, said he was glad to see rational discussion of the issue.
"There's been so much that's been irrational," he said.
The forum participants were Francis Manion, senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice, a national organization headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va.; Dan Barker, public relations director for the Freedom from Religion Foundation; and Scott Moore, a philosophy teacher at Baylor University and director of the Great Texts Program for the Waco, Texas, university. The three spent an hour and a half airing their diverse opinions and answering questions posed by moderator Richard Kyte of the Reinhart Institute and members of the audience.
Manion, who is representing the monument donors, the La Crosse Eagles Club, in an appeal of Crabb's ruling, contends that nothing in the Constitution prevents the city of La Crosse from displaying the monument on public property.
"The separation of church and state is a myth, it is not in the Constitution," he said.
Barker, whose organization spearheaded the monument challenge in La Crosse, reiterated the group's stance that any expression of religion on public property violates the intent of the Constitution to keep church and state separate.
Moore, who as a Texas resident said he doesn't care whether the monument in La Crosse goes or stays, offered a more middle of the road view that there are no easy answers. He said religion is a vital part of many people's lives and is not separate from life.
Bob Minard of Onalaska said he thought the debate was good.
"We had lefty, middle and right," he said of the debaters. Minard and his wife, Amber, said they disagreed with Barker's interpretation of the Constitution and believe La Crosse has every right to have a Ten Commandments monument in a city park.
"The whole purpose was to keep government out of religion. It did not say you can't have religion (in a public place)," Amber said.
Keith Belzer, a local attorney who was among a group of lawyers who tried unsuccessfully to get the La Crosse Common Council to adhere to Crabb's ruling, said he was disappointed that the slate of debaters failed to include a religious person who supports removal of the monument.
The Rev. Patrick Augustine, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in La Crosse and a native of Pakistan, said he thought the forum was excellent.
"It really shows the best face of what America can offer," he said, referring to the civilized discussion of an issue on which people have strong and differing opinions.
Augustine said his congregation's offer of a private space for displaying the monument still stands. The city council voted last month to appeal Crabb's decision.
Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at http://www.lacrossetribune.com
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