Yes, the Virgin Mary Statue on Public Property is Still a Huge Problem

Much like groups can adopt-a-highway in different states, promising to clean it every few months in exchange for a sign with their name on it, some cities allow you to adopt pieces of land.

That’s what Antonio Liquori, the owner of Liquori’s Pizza, did when he took control of a local traffic island in West Springfield, Massachusetts:

But instead of just keeping it clean, Liquori decided to stick a giant statue of the Virgin Mary on the island:

Of course, just because you “adopt” the island doesn’t make it your property, so this could easily be seen a government endorsement of religion. Liquori was asked to remove the statue. The Deputy Director of Operations, Vincent DeSantis, wrote to him:

“Unfortunately, in this day and age, religious artifacts are not to be displayed on city property.”

And now people in the city are acting like this is a fight worth having:

“When I took that statue off the ground, it really, really hurt me so much. It’s just so emotional you know, it really bothers me a lot,” said Antonio Liquori.

“It shouldn’t be right that one person, one or two people wrecks it for everyone else. There are so many people who love her,” said Johanna Searles.

After the statue was removed was when other members of the community got involved. West Side’s Joan Palermo even started a petition. “My heart broke, my heart broke, I have a Virgin Mary in front of my house and my heart just broke,” Palermo said.

Of course, religious statues on government property aren’t subject to majority rule. The law is clear on this, and Liquori and his supporters are just ignorant about it. He can always put the statue in his pizza parlor — no one would ask him to take it down — but he can’t just put up religious symbols wherever he wants.

For the time being, the city has allowed him to keep the statue on the traffic island while they pretend like they’re not sure what the law says.

Liquori says that Mayor Greg Neffinger got involved, telling him that he can return the statue to the island, at least until the city’s lawyers have a chance to go over the case.

But this shouldn’t last long.

In fact, it wouldn’t even take this long if the religion in question wasn’t Christian in nature. Get a Muslim symbol or atheist sign in place of the Virgin Mary and the same protesters would change their tune in a heartbeat.

(Thanks to Andy 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.

  • Jeff

    Couldn’t someone just throw it away? Legally, it’s not anything more than litter; any old person could walk out there, grab the trash, and put it in a proper waste bin.

  • JohnH2

    So is there a law that the city couldn’t just auction the property off to the highest bidder between those that want the statue and those that don’t?

  • Belaam

    Or simply fine the guy who put it there for littering.

  • Mario Strada

    For starters, I feel Mr. Liquori has lost a calling in life by owning a Pizza joint. With a name like that, he should own a liquor store specializing in Italian spirits (grappa, Cynar, Amaretto, etc).

    Second, I will employ my world famous powers of deduction and venture that Mr. Liquori is a Catholic.
    Last I checked, christian protestant don’t worship the Virgin Mary (or whatever they call it, since worshipping is only for Jesus and God so Mary and the Saints are not worshipped, wink, wink), in fact, for them it is quite sacrilegious.

    So the question is: are they all catholic in that town or the protestants are complaining along with the catholic just because they feel like they should protest secular laws?

    At the very least, they have found something to unite them: they are all wrong.

  • Rain

    He should rent a billboard. Maybe that will mend his broken heart. :( Cheer up buddy! Mommy Jesus loves you. :)

  • randomfactor

    Transportation departments clear out little roadside shrines in the public right of way all the time. They should give him a head’s up and then remove it.

  • allein

    They venerate her…or something…

  • TychaBrahe

    Wouldn’t that be a traffic hazard? I would presume that anything big enough to be seen is going to be big enough to, you know, block the view of the things behind it.

  • allein

    There are so many people who love her

    So put her in front of your pizza place…maybe you’ll get some extra business.

    My heart broke, my heart broke, I have a Virgin Mary in front of my house and my heart just broke

    So you have your own, why do you need another one? Seems kinda greedy to me…

  • Rain

    Even though she looks like bird poop sometimes. Saint Mother Mommy Jesus loves everyone.

  • Gus Snarp

    So what should we put on the median we adopt? Statues of Buddha are widely available, but perhaps that’s not controversial enough. Maybe Ganesha? Maybe something more overtly sexual from Hindu mythology? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Wait, I’ve got it, how about Santa Muerte?

  • randomfactor

    Catholicism is a fractal religion. It’s halfway between monotheism and polytheism.

  • C Peterson

    Nope, not even close. It’s full-blown polytheism.

  • JKPS

    ? Really, why doesn’t he just put the statue in his restaurant? In fact, he could make a really big deal about it, saying that “they” (always best to keep it vague) wouldn’t let him put Mary on the traffic island, but they can’t stop him from putting her up in his restaurant, and if you REALLY support Mary, then you’ll stop by for a pizza! It’d be genius! That’s what he should do.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Catholics do not worship Mary. They venerate her. Which is very different because “venerate” starts with a V, not a W.

  • randomfactor

    I disagree. It allows them to PRETEND to be a monotheism, enjoy some of the benefits (idolatry, etc) of multiple gods, but if you ask them they’ll agree that Mary and St. Francis and the rest of the lares and penates are not “true” gods at all.

    In-between one dimension and two. Fractal.

  • viaten

    Polyperson monotheism.

  • busterggi

    Nah, real polytheists admit it.

  • Mario Strada

    Thank you. I couldn’t remember what the term they used was. “Venerate” which involves getting on one’s knees while reciting incantations and asking for favors from the semi divine entity. As opposed to worshipping, which involves exactly the same thing.

  • Gus Snarp

    Well then at least Catholics shouldn’t be accusing us of worshiping Richard Dawkins.

  • Mick

    He’s crying crocodile tears. He thinks that putting the statue on public land has already guaranteed him a free trip to heaven when he dies – so now he couldn’t care less whether it stays there or not.

  • allein

    Just like all those high school kids wearing perfectly legal t-shirts to stick it to the man!

  • viaten

    Catholics venerate Mary and other saints, (not worship, that’s idolatry, though I don’t know how different that would look). They pray to Mary and saints to intercede (pray to God also). I guess it’s like working multiple channels to get what you want.

  • Gus Snarp

    Ordinarily not, but since this is part of the road right of way, I think that there probably is effectively a law preventing that.

  • viaten

    I’d say it’s “sort of” polytheistic, but I’d let Catholics define themselves how they want. I think it’s a bit funny when atheists argue over whether Catholicism counts as polytheistic or not. It seems not too far from arguing whether babies are atheists.

  • JKPS

    They’re so brave!

  • viaten

    That’s mostly a figure of speech that applies to them and their preachers as well (though they won’t admit it) and I can put up with it. But worse is hearing believers say atheism is a religion.

  • Sue Blue

    Oh, for the love of sanity – why can’t these nutjobs just be happy with putting up their tacky statues, crosses, and nativity scenes in their own front yards? Then they could smugly offend the sensibilities of passers-by every day, knowing that they’re perfectly within their rights to clutter up their own private land. But no, they have to break the law, then whine about it like they’re being burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions by the horrible, horrible atheists.

  • viaten

    If you’re interested, look up dulia, hyperdulia, latria, veneration, and adoration as distinguished from worship. The Catholics have it all sorted out.

  • Artor

    Well, words have meanings, and by any consistent definition, Catholics believe in quite a number of divine beings. There’s the trinity to start with, then Satan the anti-god, so they believe in at least four gods, although they only worship three. The saints & angels might not qualify as gods, but considering the cult surrounding Mary, she probably does, so now we have five.
    It requires breaking and abusing the language to make that mean anything other than polytheism.

  • Artor

    Since he’s not keeping the litter off it, they should yank his name too.

  • C Peterson

    They’re welcome to call themselves whatever they want. But by any reasonable standards of religious theory, they are polytheistic. They follow the most common pattern: a single, superior god and a large number of sub-deities of varying degrees of power, all created by that primary god.

  • tinker

    I am confused. Since when does adopting a piece of government land allow you to put up any sort of display or advertisement?

  • SeekerLancer

    Boo hoo you can’t display religious symbols on land you don’t own. You own a pizza place. Put it there. The Mexican place near me has a Jesus display that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

  • anniewhoo

    I was wondering too if someone tripped on the statue, or bumped into it, and was injured. Surely they could sue the town, no?

  • Space Cadet

    Also, are Catholics required to make the sign of the cross or say the Hail Mary thing while fumbling with their beads when they see a statue of Mary? I mean, talk about being a danger to others on the road!

    “Oh, there’s the statue…Hail Mary, full of…”

    *slight left turn*

    “Oh! There she is again! Hail Mary, full of….

    *slight left turn*

    “Oh fer crying out loud! “Hail Mary, full of…”

    *slight left turn*

    Is there such a thing as a hands-free rosary?

    /snarky comment is purposefully snarky

  • rhodent

    I think he’s being even more crass than that. He did it to drum up business. He’s hoping that all the bubble-brained Christians in town will come eat at his pizza joint as a show of support à la that stupid Chick-Fil-A “we hate teh gays too!” day from a while back.

  • Bob Becker

    This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with tradition! The statue has been there for a couple of weeks!

  • r.holmgren

    “But worse is hearing believers say atheism is a religion.”

    Ya, because organised atheism only has:

    . Origin of the Universe Mythologies believed in by faith

    . Origin of Life Mythologies believed in by faith

    . Growing number of Denominations

    . Infighting among Denominations

    . All other religions are considered wrong by virtue of not being atheism

    . The Atheist Ten Commandments

    . A goal of happiness and well-being

    . Abstaining from worldly desires for Lent

    . Sunday morning Church meetings of like believers

    . Summer camp for kids to learn the dogma of atheism

    . Omega Mission: 6 Week Indoctrination / Evangelism tool

    . Codified Moral Behaviours, esp. A+

    . TV shows where people call in to hear the “experts” explain atheism

    . Evangelizing in attempts to convert

    . Shunning of those who disagree esp. A+

    . Faith required to maintain core belief

    . Donating money to advertise core beliefs

    . Atheist Leaders making appeals for donations

    You don’t call that a religion? So be it.

  • Renshia

    I think the guy should win an oscar or something. I know movie stars that couldn’t pull 0ff an act like that. What a pathetic little victim.

  • Feminerd

    Shiva. Naked but for a necklace of skulls, many-armed and beweaponed Shiva, dancing on a corpse.

  • allein

    Seriously. There are 2 houses I may pass (depending on which way I go) on my way to/from work, one with a big yellow sign with black letters with something about Jesus on it, propped against a tree in their front yard, and the other with “Covered by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” painted in big white letters on their driveway. I think both are ugly and tacky, and in the latter case, slightly disturbing, but it’s their house, they can do what they want.

  • A3Kr0n

    Ha ha, you had me going there for a second before I realized this could only have come from the Onion.

  • Mario Strada

    Is “olmgren” a word for “Troll” in some Scandinavia language?
    It’s quite the imagination you have there. Sounds like you have a BS from Fox News U.

  • Pepe

    Also, Shiva looks amazing!

  • PsiCop

    I have yet ever to hear anything even remotely resembling a cogent, rational explanation for why these sorts of religious displays absolutely must be placed only on government property, and putting them on privately-owned land is thoroughly unacceptable.

    I also have yet to hear anything even remotely resembling a cogent, rational explanation for why these sorts of religious displays don’t violate Jesus’ own clear and unambiguous prohibition of any and all forms of public piety:

    “(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-6)

    What part of Jesus’ words do these people not understand? Is there something not clear in Mt 6:1-6? I thought Jesus put it pretty succinctly, and included examples. But then, I’m just a vicious, cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen, so what could I possibly know about what Jesus said?

  • r.holmgren

    Each of these items has been reported on atheist blogs. Each of them is real. How is reporting things that exist trolling?

  • viaten

    I agree, but I’ll explain more. Words do have meaning and they get twisted by people to make themselves or others to appear the way they want. There are people who worship the ten commandments that have to have physical form in prominent places in addition to crosses, and they say it’s not graven idol worship. If laws or policies that affect people are based on twisted meanings, it’s a problem.

    What I was thinking of are Muslims I’ve heard who claim worshiping more that one God is the greatest wrong and then define Christians as doing so. What business do Muslims have telling another religion how to interpret their deities? If Catholics want to say the Trinity is one God by virtue of a mystery and Mary and saints are not gods, that’s all part of the religion they have a right to practice. And others have every right to point out how those definitions don’t conform to common understanding but can’t require believers to use different words.

    As for the commenters here, they are commenting more about how Catholicism appears polytheistic rather than arguing over what Catholics should call themselves. I should have left out my atheist babies comparison.

  • viaten

    I might drop the “sort-of” from my previous comment. By external appearance they are polytheistic. I was trying to combine an external view with their internal view.

  • viaten

    Along the lines of your list, is there any view about life or the universe that a person could have that isn’t of a religious nature? Could anyone who simply does not believe there is a god, doesn’t even call themselves an atheist and are not activist in any way, regardless of their other views of things, be considered as not being of any religious view?

  • Gus Snarp

    Also a very good choice. How many median strips are there?

  • allein

    Atheists give stuff up for Lent? Must have missed that one. I never gave stuff up even when I was religious.

  • ragarth

    I wonder how much cognitive dissonance it would cause if someone went up and adopted a nearby median, then stuck a symbol of Islam on it.

  • meekinheritance

    I have been reading several atheist blogs for a couple of years now, and other than a goal of happiness and well being, I haven’t seen any of those things. I don’t suppose you have any links to these claims you are alleging?

  • DavidMHart

    All of these things are irrelevant, even if they are in some cases true. What differentiates religions from non-religions is that a religion is a worldview premised on the existence of some sort of supernatural entities, usually in the form of a god or gods, and the performance of some sort of rituals designed to communicate with or otherwise influence these supernatural entities. If you don’t believe in any supernatural entities you’re not religious, apart from possibly in a metaphorical, by-extension sense that it is unreasonable to conflate with the original literal meaning.

    And as regards the ‘origins of the universe/life mythologies believed in by faith’? No, you don’t get to do that. The current scientific explanations for the origins of the universe/life are works in progress, where we are happy to admit we don’t have all the facts yet, but this or that explanation is currently best candidate that fits the observed evidence. That’s what science does. It looks at the evidence, comes up with a hypothesis to explain that evidence, and then tests the hell out of that hypothesis, and if it fails, it must be modified until it does survive the testing, or thrown out entirely and replaced with a new hypothesis that explains the evidence better.

    Science is fundamentally premised on forcing your ideas to conform to reality. Mythology is fundamentally premised on making stuff up and then continuing to believe in it even when there’s no reason to believe it matches up to reality, or even when the evidence of reality flatly contradicts it. Religion does this a lot. Individual scientists occasionally do it too, but science as a whole tries to stop it from happening and correcting it when it does.

  • meekinheritance

    Likely to be thrown out as an “Act of God”.

  • Sids

    You could show your support of Islam by putting up a statue of Mohammad. How could that possibly go wrong…

  • Gus Snarp
  • Charles Honeycutt

    When you’re ignorant of definitions and of science, and come in making things up, you’re simply lying. Does Jesus love that you lie, Liar?

  • Charles Honeycutt

    You’re misusing terms, misrepresenting articles, and simply lying in many cases. Does Jesus love that you lie for him?

  • ianjmatt

    This is such as American issue. Here, all over Europe, you will find small shrines and groves at the side of the public highway for people to use. They are generally maintained by volunteers and have been for hundreds of years. And, here’s the amazing thing, those who don’t like them simply ignore them. Amazing!

  • Jmasot

    There is a sign that declares that whatever section of an island or roadway is maintained by X person/business. It is quite obvious that the Statue was not a City/State/Country statement of religion. Additionally the liberals have long worked to blur and distort the meaning of the Constitution. The “separation of church and state” is a meaningless statement derived from a single personal letter from one man to another in private discussion. It was not a statement of policy or legality.

    As for those using strawman statements of “what if I put X” on a corner, go right ahead, comply with the requirements to maintain the property and put Satan on there if you want, put a Star of David, put some Muslim symbol. Whatever, it doesn’t hurt me to see it and it doesn’t hurt you either. The person who is offended has chosen to allow an image to offend them.

  • Thunder

    Just by mistake i bumped into this site, and very little I read and I have not seen before so much ignorance and darkness, made up of “arrogance” and “pride”, and lack of respect, but I do not blame you selfish atheists, little gods, but this I tell you, it is a blasphemy to speak disrespectfully of God’s mother, you will remember this when the time comes, what would you feel the day of your “particular judgement” when you are presented before the Lord, Jesus Christ, to account for your sins and blasphemous words, you will tremble, and will cry of despair and beg for mercy, recall these words on that very day. I will pray for all of you tonight.