Christian Files Complaint Over Buddha Statutes at Kansas City Zoo

buddha3Christians are often confronted over their desire to have crosses and nativity scenes on public property, so David Engle of Overland Park, Kansas has filed a complaint over two Buddha statues in an Asian-themed area of the Kansas City Zoo. While peevish, it could make for an interesting constitutional case over entanglement questions.

Engle says that it is “phenomenal to me” two have the statues of Buddha when “we can’t have a cross or a nativity scene on public property.” He insists that the Buddhas are nothing more than idolatry and “infuriating to God” –the true God it appears.

The zoo is deciding what to do and clearly considering the removal of the statues. An argument could be made that such statues are common features in Asian areas and are not being used for their religious significance. However, the same could be argued about placing crosses or other religious symbols. For example, an Italian area might make the claim that churches and crosses are ubiquitous in that country. Yet, such statues are found in other public places with Asian themes, particularly gardens.

My guess is that Siddhartha Gautama may find himself in another locale.

For the full story, click here.

30 thoughts on “Christian Files Complaint Over Buddha Statutes at Kansas City Zoo”

  1. Buddha:

    No. no I’d pay to hear the rest of this screed.


    I think she’s saying she’s right ’cause her momma told her she was and it’s written in a book too. Sort of like Santa Claus and “The Night Before Christmas.”

  2. catrina
    You have the fear levels cranked up so high I can’t hear or make out what your saying.

  3. GET RID OF THE BUDDA STATUES! If ‘they’ want to remove EVERYTHING Christian from all public property, government buildings, schools,our money,our pledge of allegiance, etc… Why is Buddha OK? So Buddha is OK but the REAL GOD (The ONE TRUE LIVING GOD!) is to be taken out of everything we have in this country, whilst people call this being ‘openminded’,’elightened’ and ‘intellectuals’ who like to hang in coffee houses? PLEAASSEE… REAL TRUTH is JESUS CHRIST! He is the only way to Heaven people…Read John 3:17-21…

    You all should REALIZE that the ONLY reason this country is as prosperous as it is is because we used to all recognize and give honor to THE ONE TRUE LIVING GOD! Now I’m afraid the majority living in this country would rather embrace Eastern Religion GARBAGE and idols… I’m afraid judgement is coming and pray more people will turn to God while they are above ground… IN JESUS NAME!

  4. Gyges,

    I don’t know if this changes things for you, but my local zoo has artifacts from all over the world, to include early American, both native and european items. (They recently loaned some to our museum for display). A lot of zoos are trying to expand into a cultural “gestalt”, with the hopes of spurring conservation. I’m not closed to this issue and would like to hear what you say!

  5. Gyges,

    It’s not free advertising because it is neutral in content. Advertising is directed persuasive speech and imagery designed to make you consume. These are statues with no commentary or message other than “These animals come from Asia.” I would love to visit a penguin exhibit under the watchful and insanity inducing eyes of Elder Gods. I understand they are thinking of a statue of He Who Cannot Be Named for the politicians exhibit.

  6. Buddha,

    Somehow I missed your earlier post. Thanks for both refreshers.

    I would think that “promoting” a religion is in the eye of the beholder though. Assuming that the zoo doesn’t have other religious statues and symbols in the various other sections (I’ve never even SEEN a “Europe” themed area of a zoo, and a stone Cthulu statue for Antartica might be funny, but isn’t likely to happen) how isn’t this giving just one religion ‘free advertising?’

  7. Gyges,

    Reread Lemon v. Kurtzman. I really don’t think this case will meet the standard elucidated by the court. The test they provided was 3-fold. First, The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose. Second, the government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. And finally, the government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion. In order, 1) there is no secular legislative purpose in decorative statuary and indeed I doubt the legislature had any knowledge of the statuary except for the release of funds to the Zoo management for (some very needed) improvements to the facility. 2) There is no promotion or prohibition of religion by the display. Feel free to admire or ignore the statues as you will. And 3) the display does not promote entanglement as it is neutral in content. Now it would be different if they had Buddhas all over the park or made you bow before entry, but they don’t. It’s confined to one area and it’s for merely decorative, not proselytizing, effect.

  8. To start, I really haven’t made up my mind on this one, but I’m leaning towards the view that the statues should be taken down. I can see arguments for either side, so I’m asking my question in all sincerity. How do you decide what is decoration and what is religious? Especially when religions have vastly different traditions of worship.

    I don’t really think you can give Zoos the free pass on displaying religious art that you can give Museums. The focus of Zoos is to display wildlife and habitats that the normal person doesn’t have access to. To me, this is distinctly separate from the human cultures that might exist in those places. While I’m not against displaying things to add “regional flavor” (although I wonder if it isn’t some distant and faint echo of thinking of non-Europeans as sub-human)I don’t think that it’s central to the function of a Zoo.

  9. I think Jill is drawing a good analogy. A manger scene in front of City Hall implies a civil endorsement of a particular form of religion. While they may be publically funded, zoos & museums that choose to display “idolatrous” religious artifacts do so with an educational intent & do not thereby imply the state’s endorsement of the religion(s) associated with them.

    To carry this one step further, I wonder how Mr. Engle feels about courses in Comparative Religion taught at state colleges?

  10. I don’t think it’s like a manger scene at city hall in the sense that they aren’t there to endorse a specific religion, they are there to create a feel for another culture. Zoos, like museums are places where people go to learn about areas of the world that may be different from where we live. Buddha statues in a museum are not an endorsement of buddhism, they are an example of another culture. Paintings of christ and icons and crosses are all over the Toledo Museum of Art, as well they should be. They represent an important understanding of our collective human past and present. We have displays of Hindu god/desses, African statues of ancestors which involve ancestor worship, etc. None of these can be constured as an endorsement of any of these religions. As a zoo is also a place of learning, is a cultural display within a zoo different from a display in a museum?

  11. Buddha

    Seems a bit odd typing the above screenname given the topic. Nonetheless, perhaps I should have included the disclaimer to my last paragraph above acknowledging my tongue being firmly planted in my cheek.

  12. Sorry, RC. This guy isn’t promoting anything but his ideology and he’s choosing a poor target by the established legal standards.

  13. And JT, do you really think this won’t pass the Lemmon test? If so, you need to see how the statues are displayed. It’s not an endorsement or entanglement, it’s decoration. I’m a philosophical, not religious, Buddhist and even so I can say I’ve not once thought the KC Zoo was trying to promote Buddhism. No incense pots, no chants, no monks, no texts, no explicit religious message other than the image of a happy fat man. This is just an example of another Christian zealot who can’t keep his religion to himself. There are a lot of those in Kansas City, more than one might suspect. He needs to pull the stick out of his ass. Or as Jesus would have told him, “Turn the other cheek.” Unless he genuinely feels threatened by Buddhism. Now there’s a thought, one in which case he needs psychiatric help (my personal diagnosis). But rest assured Buddha and Buddhism want nothing from you except for you to wake up and stop suffering, lead a good life and be good to others. Now that I think about it though, you can’t be any more subversive to a movement that demands blind faith and obedience than to promote individual responsibility and open mindedness. Especially when your core message is intolerance.

  14. I have no problem with Mr Engle’s complaint. He is correct that the issue is the display of religious symbols and icons in the context of a tax-based entity. In objecting to their presence and demanding the removal of the Buddhas, Mr Engle is helping to reinforce the seperation which ALL religions should observe.

    I’m absolutely certain that once other religious organizations see the evenhandedness with which this is handled, this incident alone will by itself settle the entire church/state seperation issue once and for all.

  15. As a Christian, this wouldn’t really bother me. I know where I stand and what I believe in. Seeing a statue of Buddha at a zoo is not going to ruin my day or my life. Does it really go with the Asian theme? I don’t really know, not everyone who lives in Asia is a Buddhist.

    People these days just seem to look for things that they find offensive so that they can have something to complain about, even if it has no effect on their daily lives.

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