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Bloomington bans Bible, but welcomes Buddha

Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan

Buddha is welcome but the Bible is banned at the Bloomington, Ind., city hall after officials booted a display of the Ten Commandments erected by Christians wanting equal treatment with the Far East religion promoted by the Dalai Lama.

A WND request for comment from Mayor Mark Kruzan wasn’t immediately returned, but a team of Christians upset over the promotion of Buddhism told WND they are seeking legal advice about their next step.

The dispute arose over a display of religious statues of Buddha and other items, including religious cloth paintings, erected in the Bloomington City Hall to coincide with a coming visit of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s leader of Buddhism.

Amy Bernitt, one of the Christians who made arrangements for the Ten Commandments to be made available for a similar display about Christianity, told WND a few hours after the stone tablets were delivered for display in City Hall, “I got a very rude call from public works, telling us the Ten Commandments had been taken down and we need to come get them.”

The tablets were delivered and set up by a volunteer team of Christians after city officials declined to respond to the group’s multiple telephone and e-mail requests about the procedure used to erect the Buddhist display.

At the installation of the Christian symbol, according to the local Herald Times newspaper, Jim Billingsley read a statement explaining what was going on.

“These commandments are our symbol of peace, and we want to include them with the city’s display to promote religious enlightenment. We want to be clear that we do not agree with the ideology of the Dalai Lama or Buddhist beliefs – we are Christians and believe in one God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said.

Deputy Mayor James McNamara was in attendance, but declined to participate, telling Bernitt he had been assigned to observe the situation.

He denied the city promotes one religion over another, saying instead the display of the statues of Buddha and the other religious artifacts are, in fact, “cultural.”

Bernitt said the Ten Commandments also are cultural, and artistic, since they were carved from limestone, for which the Bloomington area is famous.

Kruzan earlier told the newspaper the Ten Commandments weren’t being allowed because the installation “followed no process and does not constitute a work of art.”

The Dalai Lama, who was honored in Washington this week, is scheduled to visit Bloomington next week. In preparation for the visit, the city set up the “Experience Peace” exhibit about Buddhism.

In his announcement promoting the Buddhist display, Kruzan said there would be a ceremony “with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama” at the Tibetan Cultural Center.

“We look forward to His Holiness’ visit and this special ribbon cutting event, which will be open to the public,” he said.

The display, according to the city, features photographs and craftwork of Tibet. “Also on exhibit are religious cloth paintings or thangkas and photographic scrolls featuring images of Tibet,” the city said.

There also is a “Peace Tree” in city hall, where the public “is invited to write their ‘peace wishes’ on the paper strips and tie them to the tree branches,” the city announcement said.

The Christians simply said that those actions opened the door to all religious materials, and their beliefs have just as much right to space in city hall as the Dalai Lama’s.

Michael Douglas, a pastor at Pentecostal Faith Assembly, told the newspaper he wants an equal voice for his beliefs. “He (Dalai Lama) lost his voice in his country, (we) don’t want to lose our voice in our country,” he said.

The Dalai Lama is expected to spend three days teaching Buddhism at Indiana University when he visits the area, officials said.

Bernitt told WND that a friend had seen the displays of religious statues and other items in city hall and was “appalled.”

She said the group then repeatedly tried to contact the mayor’s office by phone and by e-mail to ask about equal treatment, but could not get a response.

“We decided since we’re not getting a response, we would place the Ten Commandments there,” she told WND. “We left a message about our rally.”

In an e-mail, Billingsley told WND that in addition to the promotional display about Buddhism, the city is placing Dalai Lama banners on city street poles and publishing articles about the philosophy of Buddhism in a city funded magazine.

He said the installation ceremony for the Ten Commandments was brief.

“I read a brief statement on the importance of the Ten Commandments being the bedrock on which our city and nation’s cultural and legal foundations stand,” he wrote. “We then proceeded to take two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (each about 2 ft. tall and 1 ft. wide) and a table inside city hall and placed them right in front of the city’s religious display of Buddhism.”

“Shortly after we left, the city had the Ten Commandments removed. There is an obvious endorsement of one religion, and the deliberate exclusion of another going on here by Bloomington’s city government,” he said.

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