SANDPOINT, Idaho — Up to 500 protesters showed up at a public park in Sandpoint to protest a possible plan to move a Ten Commandments monument.
The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/Oduqxa) the protest started about 2 p.m. Thursday even though Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon said there were no plans to move the monument.
“I don’t like this at all,” said protester Gladys Larson. “There’s no way someone can come into our town and dictate what goes on here.”
City officials have said they’re investigating alternative locations for the monument now in Farmin Park after receiving a letter in November from the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking the monument be removed.
“Ten Commandments displays continue to cause distress and divisiveness and continue to be challenged around the country,” the letter said. “The best approach is to remedy the liability by moving the monument now.”
The group’s attorney, Patrick Elliott, said it has received three or four complaints about the monument since 2010 from both residents and visitors.
“(The foundation’s) letter addresses this primarily as a matter of policy rather than as a legal issue,” he said.
But City Attorney Scot Campbell said the monument’s location opens the city to the potential for costly litigation.
“I would be equally criticized if we received the attached warning letter and ignored it and were later sued to remove the monument, potentially costing the city a lot of money to defend the lawsuit,” he said.
Kim Woodruff, director of parks and recreation, said the city has no plans to move the monument donated to the city in 1972 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Mayor Carrie Logan asked Woodruff to work with the group to consider alternative locations for the monument.
“No disrespect is meant to the faith community,” the city said in a statement. “Rather the decision was a business one to protect the financial interests of the city in these litigious times.”
City Councilman Bob Camp said he hadn’t heard anything about the possible move until he started getting phone calls.
A public hearing has been added to the City Council agenda Wednesday to get public comments about the monument.
The Eagles plan to meet Thursday to figure out what to do.
“My guess right now is that most everyone would want to leave it where it is,” Eagles Vice President Dave Dawson said.
A local conservative group called the Friends of Idaho is also becoming involved.
“Friends of Idaho recognizes that the threat of litigation is the reason for the city’s action,” said group member Pam Stout. “However, we must ask that they rethink their decision.”
The newspaper reports that many people didn’t know the monument existed until recent events put it in a spotlight.