The question has arisen of whether a stupa on public park land is in violation of the First Amendment.
Controversy has arisen over a Buddhist stupa at Petroglyph National Monument, federally owned park land. The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a statement to the press late last week stating that the National Parks Service has been extremely slow to respond to a letter the group sent to them in September 2010. According to the press release, that letter “asked NPS officials how they intended to resolve what appear to be clear First Amendment violations in both Petroglyph and Grand Canyon.”
The second issue at the Grand Canyon was related to plaques with Bible verses that had been placed at various locations around the park by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in the 1960s. Following receipt of PEER’s September letter, park officials removed the plaques, but four days later, the Deputy Director of the NPS at the time contacted the Sisters and told them they could put the plaques back in their original locations.
The stupa at Petroglyph was built on privately owned land that was later purchased by the NPS in 1996. The house and other buildings that were originally on the land have been demolished, but the stupa remains.
The group says that they are not hostile toward religion, but they simply want the First Amendment, which requires the separation of church and state, to be upheld. The NPS has said that they are consulting legal and policy experts regarding the two sites. A spokesperson for the NPS told the Denver Post: “We are dealing with this, but dealing with religious displays is not easy. We want to be respectful of the separation of church and state, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell the history of the U.S. without preserving the role religion has played.”