Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Mar 3, 2004

A Kind Word for the Trib


While helping out at a local church I overheard a minister and a member of his congregation tsk tsking the Duluth News Tribune. The paper’s misdemeanor was in manufacturing a news story. The Trib had contacted the notorious anti-gay minister from Topeka, Kansas, Fred W. Phelps, to ask him what he thought of the possible removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the lawn of Duluth’s Civic Center.  As a result Phelps demanded that we erect another religious monument, one expressing his own peculiar brand of Christianity.


The complaint was simple. Fred Phelps is an unpleasant man with a hateful religious message. Phelps is not from Duluth and thus not part of our politics so he should mind his own business. Phelps’s proposal to plant a second monument by the Ten Commandments was objectionable because his monument proclaims that a martyred gay student is now burning in hell.


There has been a spate of letters-to-the-editor expressing a similar distaste for the Tribune’s “muckraking.” Evidently a lot of people agree that the Tribune invited trouble with its unnecessary inquiry. I disagree. I think the Tribune performed a valuable service by putting the issue of the Ten Commandments Monument in perspective.


Ironically, many of the people complaining about the Trib’s reporting are the very people who should welcome its treatment of the issue - religious liberals. For many of them the question of the Ten Commandments is one of the state taking sides in religious matters. Opposed to the liberals are religious conservatives who view the removal of the Ten Commandments as yet one more effort to remove God from America’s public life. And yet liberals and conservatives alike both agree that the Reverend Phelps's dogma is unpalatable. Conservatives, who do not condone homosexuality, still live by the creed: hate the sin love the sinner.


Both liberal and conservative Christians would be well advised to pay attention to Reverend Phelps on the subject of erecting religious monuments. Phelps has good reason to remind us about the Supreme Court’s decisions because he is in a much maligned and shrinking minority - gay bashers.


Phelps tweaked our new Mayor’s nose in a recent letter-to-the-editor for sticking up for the Ten Commandments monument while opposing Phelps’s hellfire and brimstone memorial. Phelps quoted the Supreme Court in Chicago Police Dept. v. Mosley (1972). In that case the Court held that the state can’t choose which viewpoints will be permitted to be expressed at public facilities. While it has taken the ACLU thirty-two years to get around to challenging our Ten Commandments there is little doubt that the City and the Mayor are treading on thin constitutional ice. The Chicago decision clearly suggests that the Ten Commandments can’t be given priority over Islamic, Buddhist, Atheistic or even the Rev. Phelps’s anti-gay pronouncements. The Constitution simply does not allow Duluth to play favorites where free expression is concerned.


To argue, as some have, that Fred Phelps as an outsider and should not be made part of the discussion ignores the fact that Phelps made himself part of Duluth’s history a few years back by traveling here to preach against a gay-pride parade. The Trib has obviously been paying attention to Fred Phelps since he left Duluth. Apparently an almost identical situation to ours exists in Nebraska where another of Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments memorials was placed on public property. When the ACLU challenged that City, Phelps demanded that his memorial be erected along side it just as he has in Duluth. Under these circumstances it seems perfectly reasonable for the Trib to have contacted Phelps.

And who says we even have the correct Ten Commandments? Another recent letter-to-the-editor complained that our Ten Commandments Memorial doesn’t list the correct Ten Commandments. It’s so typical of Christians to split hairs over the translation of the Bible. So, do we really want to entrust to our City Council the responsibility of choosing the Bible’s proper scriptural text? Heck, the City Council still can’t figure out whether the “old growth forest” on Spirit Mountain is a holy site or not.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com.