The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
A limboed Columbia religious icon may finally be getting a new home.
Last year, American United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Boone County Commission requesting information about the inclusion of an ichthus, or “Jesus fish,” symbol when the Gulf War monument was erected on public grounds in 1992. Under advice from AU, the Commission took measures to alter the memorial to comply with the law, specifically the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Now the Commission wants to reconsider that decision. In November 2014, the Commission agreed to hear the community’s input on the issue before reaching a decision. Almost nine dramatic months later, after countless public comment periods, and increasingly creative pronunciations of the word “ichthus,” that decision is finally upon us. The Commission will decide next week what to do with the divisive monument.
The solution being considered involves having the monument relocated to a private cemetery nearby, with private funds being raised towards its replacement.
The monument on the Boone County Courthouse lawn says, in part:
“To the men who gave their lives, and the men and women who offered but, were spared.”
It then goes on to list two area servicemembers who died in service of the country during the course of the war. This is oddly followed by an ichthus, an explicitly Christian symbol that does not represent the war or the views of all those who served.
Part of the problem is that this monument can’t decide whether it is a secular memorial to all who served, or a touching sectarian tribute to two individuals that nevertheless really belongs under private care. Several other secular war monuments – located just feet away – make no mention of the religious background of those who served.
The selective inclusion of these individuals beliefs has never been adequately explained. People from a variety of religions and worldviews served in this war and others; why single out these particular Christian individuals for their religious beliefs? Did Christianity have anything to do with the war? Were these men’s beliefs more important to them than any of the others who served? Both unlikely. Is it offensive to include only Christian symbolism? For many people who served in uniform from other unrepresented backgrounds, absolutely yes.
The secularist position is not just a fringe view held by one outside special interest group in Washington with no connections to mid-Missouri. In addition to being supported by the law, the separation of church and state is a view advocated locally by groups and individuals like ours. This ichthus’ inclusion affects all of us and it offends us.
Relocating the monument is hardly the ideal solution and neither is altering the offending parts of the monument 20 years too late. Both are woefully inadequate band-aid solutions to an unfortunately difficult predicament. However, the whole prolonged year-long affair could have been avoided had the ichthus never been placed in the first place.
Whatever the reasons the County decided to allow the symbol’s inclusion, we can’t take back that decision now. Americans United’s forced intervention in the situation means that this will only be resolved when either a case makes it to court – involving a protracted and costly litigation that causes the servicemembers’ families even more distress – or the commission makes the responsible decision of resolving the complaints.
We must maintain a religiously inclusive culture here, even in the Christian stronghold of mid-Missouri. This injustice must be corrected or the monument must go.