Oakland Zoo Agrees to Remove Unnecessary Ten Commandments Monument

The Ten Commandments monument at the Oakland Zoo (via ACLJ)

That’s a monument of the Ten Commandments. I would have no problem if that monument was up at a local church.

But what was it doing at the Oakland Zoo? That’s what Joey Piscitelli wanted to know when he wrote a letter to zoo officials back in May:

My name is Joey Piscitelli, and I am a supporter of the Oakland Zoo, and have attended several events at the zoo, including weddings and other occasions at the “Snow Building”, located on the Zoo property; which you authoritatively rent out to the public as an event center.

I am also a supporter of 1st Amendment rights, freedom of religious choice, and equality. To my shock, I was very disappointed to see that the City of Oakland displays a very large monument at the Snow Building entitled: “The Ten Commandments”. This monument is categorically a Christian symbol; and a blatant pronouncement of adherence to the Bible and the belief in the Christian God.

“Disappointment” seems like a good word for the feeling I have about it, too. “Outrage” or “offended,” not so much. But there’s no reason for the monument to be there.

The East Bay Atheists and the Atheist Advocates of San Francisco had planned a protest at the zoo this coming weekend.

Thankfully, there’s no longer a reason for it (and the atheists are calling it off) because zoo officials have agreed to remove it:

Joel Parrott, the zoo’s executive director, said that the stone plaque marking Christian tradition was at odds with a zoo — and a diverse region.

“We try to be very sensitive to the community, so that we can be inclusive,” said Parrott. “This wasn’t the right location for that type of thing.”

Parrott said the plaque had been on the site since 1966, when the land was a state park. In 1977, it became a city park, Knowland Park. He said sensitivity for visitors was the only reason for its removal.

“It was never unconstitutional or illegal and it wasn’t removed for legal reasons,” he said.

If it was legal — and I don’t know that it was — it was still an unnecessary blight on the premises. I wish the atheists didn’t have to work so hard to get officials to realize that, but good on them for getting this done. The monument made as little sense as having a Christian cross or Scarlet A near the lions’ den. As if the animals have a religious faith?

(By the way, I hope you appreciate how I’m completely ignoring the whole “Zoo director is named Parrott” angle here.)

Cue mock outrage from conservative Christians who think their rights are being trampled on…

(Thanks to Bob for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Technically the Ten Commandments isn’t a Christian symbol, it’s a Jewish one; Christianity merely appropriated it. Has Christian privilege gotten so outrageous that people don’t even realize they’re looking at another culture’s symbol?

  • Skeptico

    ” This monument is categorically a Christian symbol…”

    …surely also Jewish?

  • Bruce Heerssen

    If there is one place on public property where it’s ok to put a Latin cross, I should think it would be next to the lions’ den. </snark>

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    It merely needs a little modification:

    I  Thou shall have no other Dogs before me
    II  Thou shall not make any Raven images
    III  Thou shall not take the name of thy Keeper in vain
    IV  Remember the feeding hour, and keep it holy
    V  Honor thy Sire and Dam
    VI  Thou shall not kill what thou eatest not
    VII  Thou shall not commit adultery when thou hast not the mightiest antlers
    VIII  Thou shall not steal from thine Alpha
    IX  Thou shall not witness false Bears
    X  Thou shall not Civet

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I’d call it Abrahamic.

  • hobbit6

    The Jews have 613.  Christians only use those 10.  

  • Linda Turnipseed

    I don’t understand why the cross would be a Jewish symbol since they do not worship Christ and do not ‘believe in’ the resurrection.

  • Randomfactor

    And the wrong ten at that.  These are the ones that got smashed.

  • readzalot

    I would like to see a positive spin put on these sort of articles, where they say that the plaque was given to a nearby church. Same with Nativity Scenes – if people heard that they will still be displayed, but on private property, it might help them see that the problem is not the religious symbols but that they are on government property. 

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    Wouldn’t it be more practical just to put the no-beastiality commandments on display?

  • Joey Piscitelli

       Hello.
       Thanks Hemant for posting your opinion. The reason why I called the 10 comandos a Christian symbol is that the Fraternal Order of Eagles who posted the monument intended specifically to proselytize only the Christian faith – on public properties in spite of the 1st amendment.  Jews were not involved in the placement, nor in the intent.
       There is no other monument placed on the Oakland public property. It’s either post all beliefs, or post none. The City should not condone one belief over others, and that is why they came to their senses and removed the monument to avoid controversy, as they should.
    peace-
    Joey Piscitelli

  • Cincinatheist

    I award you ten internets. Well played. *slow clap*

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I think the beasts might have a problem with that!

  • AxeGrrl

    Why on earth was it put there in the first place??

    Talk about a non sequitur……

  • LesterBallard

    I enjoy listening to Christians (Ray Comfort loves it) try to break the law into moral, civil, ceremonial, to explain why Christians only had to concern themselves with the Ten Commandments. He could never tell us where it actually says that in the Bible.

  • Heidi

     It might be nice to do something positive for the zoo, since they did the right thing.

  • The Other Weirdo

     He only smashed 5 of the 15.

  • Stev84

    Seriously, there are three different sets of Ten Commandments in the Bible. The ones usually quoted were destroyed by Moses when he returned from Mt. Sinai and was disgusted at the what his people were doing in his absence. So he killed a lot of people and asked god to dictate a new set. One that’s much more weird

  • Stev84

    It’s explained in the article. The land was a park before it was a zoo. So the zoo didn’t put it there.

  • Nhills

    Why was there a monument to the “ten commandments” in a zoo???

  • Blitzgal

    It’s weird that a state park would have it, too.

  • Stev84

     Yeah, but somehow more understandable than a zoo of all things

  • Chupper

    ” I wish the atheists didn’t have to work so hard to get officials to realize that, but good on them for getting this done.”

    It doesn’t seem to me they had to work very hard, since it just took a letter.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

     BRILLIANT list!

  • Isilzha

    The zoo is owned by the City of Oakland so I’d wager it WAS unconstitutional.

  • http://twitter.com/1AngryAtheist The Angry Atheist

    Another interesting point about this is the group responsible for placing the monument is  called The Fraternal Order of Eagles. This group, according to Wikipedia, has been responsible for many such monuments. I have had a couple of people come to me talking about similar monuments in their area. And another interesting bit of trivia is that they claim to have placed close to 10,000 ten commandment plaques  throughout the country in/around 1954 (to stop communism I would guess) From what I have read they have been placing 10 commandment plaques and monuments on libraries, fire stations, schools and other public buildings pretty much unchecked for years.
      The group is spread around here in the bay area.  I’m not sure about the rest of the country. They are also involved in many charity organizations. I guess that means if anyone is critical of them then they are also against the charities the group supports. That often is a tactic used by groups like this. Membership is open to any person of good moral character, and believes in the existence of a supreme being. In case anyone is interested.

  • http://twitter.com/1AngryAtheist The Angry Atheist

     It took a little more than a letter. The response Joe got to the second letter was less than professional. Thats when Larry Hicok got on board and planned the protest and from there the media coverage began and caused Oakland to rethink.(my guess) I agree it wasn’t real difficult but it could have been easier if the city attorney had been more professional.

  • http://twitter.com/1AngryAtheist The Angry Atheist

     Joe publicly offered to remove the monument and take it to any church who may want it. There wasn’t a lot of time to find any takers before it was removed.

  • Btyboop2001

    I personally find it appalling to remove something that has been there since the 1960′s and nobody since then was offended by it. GOD SHOULD NOOOOOOOOOOOT BE REJECTED THIS WAY AND ITS JUST WRONG!!!!  

    WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO DECIDE WHAT MAJORITY OF PEOPLE BELIEVE IN.  GET A LIFE AND QUIT TRYING MAKE DECISIONS FOR EVERYONE ELSE. FIND SOMETHING BETTER TO WASTE YOUR TIME ON. 

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Lots of all-caps and four exclamation marks! That qualifies this as a Poe.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Clearly they are not applying their membership qualification test using the criteria the way I would.

    If it takes a supreme being’s threats and rewards to keep you moral, then maybe you aren’t.

  • ImRike

     Slow down, Btyboop! It is exactly BECAUSE the government is not supposed to support ONLY the majority, that this monument was taken down. I would suggest to you to look around you and listen to the news: christians will not be the majority forever, and when that happens, you will be happy to be able to use the constitution for your purpose!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Actually, the ones quoted had nothing to do with Moses’s hike up Mt. Sinai.  Whatever was on the smashed ones didn’t survive, so it may very well have been “Whatever you do, don’t put these in Zoos!!!”

    What finally survived from Mt. Sinai was Exodus 34.Pretty sure you’ve seen it, but for others: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkCJ8rb8Grw

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Huh, I went to the Oakland Zoo a lot when I was a small child, and I don’t ever recall seeing this monument. Then again, the Ten Commandments weren’t exactly on my radar at the time, LOL.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_32RIW3WOPTAPYF7LMIA67I562U Leisa H

    For people that are atHEIST why the hate? Did the stones cause this man that much distress that he was sick. If you do not believe, than you cannot be hurt by what you believe not to be true. Why not just let the Commandments stay. Who did the hurt? They are not there to mock your beliefs. It was a gift from someone. Will you now make people keep the crosses they wear around their necks put them under the shirts Or is that something you have already thought about. To take my beliefs away. Your group has much in common with NAMBLA. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Would you mind a monument to the five pillars of Islam in the park?

    NAMBLA? Really? Care to explain the logic behind that connection?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001926842089 Ingo Breuer

    I want the Ten Commandments to be placed back. I respect those who originally placed them there in the 1960s.
    http://www.solidrockfaith.com/en/2010/10/the-ten-commandments/
     


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