CNN, July 14, 2003
PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) — After more than three decades at the Grand Canyon, three bronze plaques inscribed with biblical passages have been removed by U.S. park officials over concern that the religious messages violate the U.S. Constitution, officials said Monday.
Officials said they had no choice but to remove the plaques from three popular spots at the majestic canyon’s busy South Rim after an inquiry was made by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
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“They are religious plaques on federal buildings and that’s not allowed based on the law,” said Maureen Oltrogge, a Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman.
The plaques are inscribed with passages from the Book of Psalms, specifically, by chapter and verse 68:4, 66:4 and 104.24. The last verse, in the King James Version of the Bible, reads: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”
The plaques will be returned this week to their owners, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix, Oltrogge said. The signs were taken out last week.
A statement from the religious group expressed sadness at the decision on the plaques, which they said were created to honor God for the crimson-hued showpiece in northern Arizona that attracts nearly 5 million visitors a year.
“We hope and pray that a suitable alternative location will be found for the plaques, so that they will continue to be an asset to the park and a blessing for future visitors,” the statement said.
Oltrogge said the signs had drawn scattered comment over the years, but that officials decided to review the issue after a February letter from the ACLU. The U.S. Interior Department determined the plaques were inappropriate because of the First Amendment precepts on the separation of church and state.
The plaques were put into place by the parks concessionaire for the religious group 33 years ago, set into place at Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio and Desert View Watchtower scenic overlooks. The group’s founder came up with the idea.