A Christian group in Calgary has organized a campaign to protest an elephant statue in the zoo that resembles Ganesh, the Hindu God. The group is challenging the three-meter statue as “selective religious partiality.”
Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and was placed at the Elephant Crossing exhibit in 2006.
The zoo says that it removed all of the religious symbols on the statue before it was erected.
However, Jim Blake, national chair of Concerned Christians Canada, insists that “[t]he zoo is not a place of religious indoctrination, it is supposed to be a safe family environment free of religious icons and selective religious partiality. The displaying of different gods in a public place like this is an offence to our beliefs and does not represent the diversity of views that should be reflected.” He asked for the zoo to also allow the placement of a cross of Jesus Christ and the Ten Commandments and Noah’s Ark if the elephant statue remains.
On one level, these complaints by Christian organizations often produce a visceral response from civil libertarians since many such groups fight for the placement of crosses and the ten commandments on public land over the objections of other religions. Yet, when a display suggests another faith, there is a strong separation of church and state response.
However, this is a tough call. On one hand, there is an obvious connection to this site in using this playful statue, which most people would likely view as a simply a dancing elephant. However, if this were a statue showing Noah’s Ark or St. Francis protecting animals, would it be viewed as a neutral or non-sectarian display?
Of course, Blake does not help the claim with raw sectarian language: “The display of foreign gods is offensive and does not reflect the views of the majority of Canadians.”
I love the statue, but it does raise some legitimate questions over the separation of church and state. What do you think?
Of course, the zoo board may wish to offer the following prayer to Ganesh Upanishad to help put any lawsuit “on the right track”:
I surrender to you, Lord Ganesha. You are the speaker. You are the listener. You are the giver. You are the sustainer. I am your disciple. Protect me from the front and back. Protect me from the north and the south, from above and below. Protect me from all directions.
You are full of perfect knowledge of truth and awareness. You are full of bliss and pure consciousness. You are truth, consciousness and bliss. You are the absolute awareness. You are full of supreme wisdom and knowledge.
You are the earth, water, fire, air and the space. You are the root foundation of speech. You are beyond the three gunas: ‘sattva’, ‘rajas’ and ‘tamas.’ You are beyond the physical, mental and causal bodies. You are beyond the three aspects of time: past, present and future. You are eternally established in the muladhara chakra. You have three shaktis: action, knowledge and will.
Salutation to the Ganapati whose seed mantra is Aum Gam. We know Ekadanta, the One-tusked God, the unique God. We meditate upon Vakratunda, the curved-trunk God. May that unique elephant God illumine our consciousness and direct us along the right track.
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