Monday, August 07, 2006

Planned Katrina Memorial Creates Church-State Issues

Last year's Hurricane Katrina has been the source of many controversies, and now, according to yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune, another one is brewing. This time it is over the memorial to the storm's victims being planned in St. Bernard Parish. The monument, which was authorized by the Parish Council, will feature a cross bearing a likeness of the face of Jesus. Two parish officials are co-chairing the memorial committee-- on their private time. Importantly, the site chosen for the monument-- the banks of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a public waterway-- will be private property since erosion has eliminated the government-owned land that previously comprised the waterway's banks. And the monument is being financed with private donations.

The ACLU of Louisiana has protested. Its July 28 open letter to St. Bernard Parish President Henry Rodriguez said that either building a religiously neutral monument or moving the monument to private property would be acceptable. However the Times-Picayune article suggests that now the ACLU is arguing that even if the memorial is placed on private property, there was sufficient government involvement in authorizing it to create Establishment Clause problems.