Will you honor or not honor the religious monuments donated to the city?
A decision by the Assiniboine Park Conservancy to remove a monument representing the Ten Commandments from the land where the new Leaf Diversity Gardens stands raises questions about inclusivity and religious freedom in public spaces.
The monument was donated to the City of Winnipeg in 1965 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an international organization that organizes events and social activities for its members and supports local non-profit organizations.
It was put into storage in 2017 before construction began on the $130 million indoor horticultural attraction which is expected to open before the end of the year.
When the building was put into storage, “we wondered if the park was still the best location for this type of religious monument,” said Conservancy spokeswoman Laura Cabak. Free press in an email.
“While the monument is part of Winnipeg’s history, our goal is to nurture a sense of community in our park that allows everyone to feel welcome, accepted and comfortable being themselves,” she wrote.
“We have considered this issue very carefully, in light of the recent debate over historical landmarks, and believe that relocating the monument may make the park less welcoming to some members of our community.”
Founded in 2008, the Conservancy is a nonprofit organization responsible for operating the park, as well as establishing a future vision for the park and zoo. He has a 50-year lease with the city, which owns the property and assets.
Since the monument was originally donated to the city, the Conservancy has requested that its future location be considered by the Welcoming Winnipeg initiative, which aims to ensure that “First Nations contributions, experiences and perspectives , Métis and Inuit are faithfully reflected in our stories, historical markers and place names. »
“We will respect the outcome of this process, whatever it is,” Cabak said.
A retired Winnipeg teacher, however, believes the organization has overstepped its bounds and wants the monument removed from storage and placed “in a respectable and honorable place” in the park.
Ed Hume, who calls himself a Christian, sent a letter to Mayor Brian Bowman and city council members arguing that the historic landmark, rooted in Christian and Jewish religions and respected by Muslims, has been removed “from space public when there is no law against keeping there.”
“It is up to the city and the citizens of Winnipeg,” Hume said, adding that “the decision whether or not to remove it from the park is up to the elected city councilors and the mayor, not the Conservancy.”
The Conservancy might be concerned about offending some people, Hume told the Free press.
“There is a battle there over what is an acceptable monument,” he said, adding that it could also be a case of interference with religious freedom.
“Someone has to hold the Conservancy accountable.”
In December 2019, the Conservancy offered to move the monument at its expense if the Fraternal Order of Eagles had a new location for it. Initially, the group responded favorably and tentative arrangements were made for a transfer, Cabak said, adding that the city had been notified.
However, the plan was put on hold due to the pandemic, and when the Conservancy contacted the Order again last winter, they were told that the group, which has about 400 members in four Manitoba branches, will not was more interested in relocation.
Manitoba chapter president Darryl Lee said he was disappointed with the way the Conservancy handled the case.
“It wasn’t a request and we didn’t get any input,” he said. “It was more like ‘come and get your monument.'”
For him, the monument was donated to the city 57 years ago “by people who are no longer with us” and the matter is now between the Conservancy and the city.
“We’d rather he stay in the park or go to another park, and we support Ed Hume’s efforts,” he said. “But we are not interested in pursuing any further.”
Conservation officials also met with Hume “to give him the opportunity to share his perspective and concerns,” Cabak said.
Hume said he wondered if the public would be notified when Welcoming Winnipeg considered the monument’s future and if members of the public would be allowed to give presentations.
“I plan to introduce it to other groups, not just religious people, to be dealt with openly,” he said.
Deputy City Council Speaker and Mynarski Councilor Ross Eadie said Hume and others will have “a chance to make public submissions when the monument issue goes through process.”
There is another monument to the Ten Commandments on public land in the city, located in Kildonan Park. It was erected by the Knights of Columbus in 1968.
John Longhurst has been writing for the Winnipeg Faith Pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the US and blogs about media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
Read the full biography