The Delaware Valley Americans United Chapter (DVAU) got quite a bit of attention from conservative news outlets following the removal of a “Noah’s Ark” display from the Norma B Handloff public park in Newark Delaware. The Noah’s Ark story and text from the Bible were featured prominently on an area of children’s playground equipment usually reserved for Tic-Tac-Toe or letters and numbers.
DVAU’s Janice Rael traveled to Delaware to meet with members of Newark Atheists, who had photographed the Noah’s Ark display when visiting the park with their grandchildren. Several members of the group expressed confusion that Newark, which is typically a progressive town, would have approved the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for a clearly religious display. Everyone in the group was upset by the display and the overt attempt at proselyzation to young children.
DVAU sent the photos and information about the “Noah’s Ark in the Park” to the Legal Department at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who carefully investigated the issue and found that the installation was indeed unlawful. AU sent the City of Newark a letter in October, and the City responded favorably, removing the Noah’s Ark display from the park. Members of the Newark Atheists group later confirmed to DVAU that the Noah’s Ark stickers had been removed from the playground equipment.
Here are links and partial quotes to news articles that covered this story. Click through to read the full articles and the comments below. We warn you, in the comments sections of many of these pages, we were called everything from “crybabies” to “Communists.” Members of the majority faith do not seem to mind having their tax dollars used to promote religion, as long as the religion is their own.
Newark Post Online: Complaint prompts removal of Noah’s Ark display in Newark park
After receiving a complaint, the city has removed a piece of playground equipment at Handloff Park that depicted the story of Noah’s Ark.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, filed the complaint on behalf of a local atheist organization.
The display was a clear violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, argued Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for AU.
“Nobody should have to choose between not going to a public playground or having their children exposed to religious messages,” he said.
Part of a larger piece of equipment in the Barksdale Road park, the display consisted of nine plastic cylinders mounted on rods that spin. Decals on one side depicted animals found on Noah’s Ark, while the other side consisted of text that told the Biblical story in child-friendly terms.
The feature is often found on playgrounds, but the decals usually depict tic-tac-toe pieces or other educational materials.
City spokesman Ricky Nietubicz said he did not know when or why the equipment was installed in Handloff Park, noting he was unaware of the Biblical display until the city received the complaint on Oct. 16.
After consulting with City Solicitor Bruce Herron, parks and recreation employees removed the display last week.
“It was pretty obvious Christian messaging,” Nietubicz said. “We had no problem removing it.”
There was a fair mixture of both good and bad comments there.
The Christian Post quickly picked up on the story and called DVAU’s Janice Rael to talk about why our chapter got involved. The seemed a little disappointed when they reported that the installation had been there for quite some time. However, they let Rael get the last word.
BY MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
The city of Newark, Delaware, has removed a Noah’s Ark display from a children’s playground after receiving a complaint from a secular group threatening a lawsuit.
Officials said that although the equipment has been at the park for a long time, they decided to remove it because it includes verses from the book of Genesis in the Bible, which Americans United for Separation of Church and State claimed is a violation of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Just weeks after sending their complaint to city officials, the DVAU declared victory on their Facebook page amid hearing that Newark had the Noah’s Ark materials removed.
Likewise, both DVAU and Americans United announced on Twitter that their efforts had been successful, but made no further comment on their respective organizational websites as of Sunday.
“I am sure that the city meant no harm, but the government must remain neutral on religious matters, so they had to take that installation down,” Rael told CP.
The readers reply section was less than charitable to DVAU, Newark Atheists, and those involved in the removal of the Noah’sArk display, but some excellent replies to the negative comments were posted by a longterm AU member who countered nearly every bad argument made by CP readers.
There was a short story on the Christian Today website.
A Noah’s ark display has been removed from a children’s playground in Newark, Delaware, after atheist grandparents complained that they did not want their grandchildren to see Bible verses.
The grandparents took their complaint to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who in turn presented their challenge against the Noah’s ark display to Newark city officials.
Janice Rael, vice president of the Washington DC chapter of Americans United, told The Christian Post that the grandparents were atheists who “did not want their grandchildren to see the Bible verses or the cartoon rendition of the Noah’s ark story”.
While there is no reader comment section on Christian Today, they seemed a bit surprised that grandparents could also be atheists.
Another site that seemed consternated by the notion of “atheist grandparents” was Glenn Beck’s The Blaze: Atheist Grandparents Take Aim at Bible-Themed Noah’s Ark Display in This Public Park
A Noah’s Ark-themed display that was part of a public playground in Delaware has been removed following threats from a church-state separatist group.
I saw the letter, AU did not issue any threat. AU cited case law and simply asked that the law be followed.
The rest of the article on The Blaze is lifted entirely from all the other articles I’ve already quoted in this post. The comments section is atrocious and not for the faint of heart. The readers there simply feel that the icons of the majority religion should be displayed at taxpayer expense. In the comments, we were accused of “making threats” (no threat was made), being “Anarchists,” “following liberalism like a religion,” and so on. There are over 450 comments, and no dissent. It is, after all, Glenn Beck’s website.
One of the weirdest articles about the removal of the Ark display came from a site I’d never heard of before.
When most people think of lurking dangers in public parks they imagine drug dealers, sexual predators or muggers. For one pair of Delaware grandparents, the biggest fear is Christianity.
Um, no, that’s not the issue, Mr Sabia.
The city of Newark bowed to pressure from Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s demands for the removal of a Noah’s Ark display in Norma B. Handloff Park that included verses from the Book of Genesis.
Staying on the right side of the law is not “bowing to pressure.”
Mr Sabia went on to quote from DVAU’s Facebook Page and some of the other articles already published about the story. But he pulled no punches in his conclusion:
And the good citizens of Newark are now safe from an inanimate display of love and hope.
It’s very sad that Mr Sabia and others like him feel that government neutrality on religion is hostility towards religion. Neutrality is not hostility. Not taking a side is not taking a side. The government shouldn’t take a side when it comes to theological discussion.
The commenters on the article said that atheists are “whiny,” but several others posted great replies, including Chuck Dyke of Newark Atheists, who was quoted in some of the articles posted above. A long theological debate followed, which hopefully illustrates why the government should remain neutral on religion.
DVAU got some very nice coverage from the Friendly Atheist blog at Patheos, and he made the absolutely best point:
This may seem like a petty fight to pick, but I firmly believe we need to go after even minor church/state violations. If we don’t, it won’t be long before we start seeing biblical displays at city parks everywhere.
Thank you, Hemant! And thanks to the hundreds of positive and supportive comments that your readers posted!
Of course, all of the thanks goes to the Legal Department at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who helped the DVAU Chapter respond to a citizen complaint and achieve results that support Jefferson’s Wall of Separation between religion and government. We are so proud of the work that AU has helped us to accomplish.