In a series of recent decisions, the National Park Service has approved the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books about the origins of natural wonders in national parks, according to documents to be released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
"The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of faith-based parks," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
In July, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered the Grand Canyon National Park to return three bronze plaques bearing biblical verses to public viewing areas on the Canyon's South Rim. Murphy overruled the park superintendent, who had authorized the removal based on legal advice from the Interior Department that the religious displays violated the First Amendment.
On its website, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, which put up the plaques, says the Bible verses were allowed in the national park after "God touched the hearts of officials to give permission."
This fall, the Park Service approved a creationist text, "Grand Canyon: A Different View," for sale in park bookstores and museums. The book claims that the Grand Canyon is only a few thousand years old and developed on a biblical, rather than an evolutionary, time scale. At the same time, Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis, PEER found.
The actions would appear to be in conflict with President Bush's stated support for policies based on "sound science."
Last month, the Park Service announced it would alter an 8-minute video shown at the Lincoln Memorial visitor center of past demonstrations and events at the memorial. Conservative groups had asked for the removal of footage of gay rights, pro-choice and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations because it implies that "Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion 'rights' as well as feminism." The Park Service has promised to develop a "more balanced" version that includes rallies of Christian groups and pro-war demonstrations, PEER said.
The Park Service is also engaged in a legal battle to continue displaying an 8-foot-tall cross atop a 30-foot-high rock outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve in California. The suit is pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.