CASPER, Wyo. The City Council decided yesterday to move a controversial Ten Commandments monument out of a park and into a plaza that will honor a variety of historic documents.
The 5-4 vote followed a unanimous rejection of an offer by the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., to place his own monument in the park.
Phelps has been calling for a monument declaring that Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in October, 1998, went to hell because of his sexual orientation. Shepard's murder sparked a nationwide outcry for hate-crimes legislation.
Phelps threatened to sue if the city did not comply with his demand. Meanwhile, the city was threatened last month with a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of Madison, Wis., if it did not remove the Ten Commandments monument from City Park.
The monument has been in the park since 1965, when it was donated to the city by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Those who voted for the monument plaza plan included Mayor Barb Peryam, who said that is where the Ten Commandments monument belongs.
"And for those outsiders who think they can run our city, I say, 'Thank you, thank you very, very much.' Because, you know what, if you think that we are going to put our monument someplace in cold storage, I've got another thought for you. We are going to put it where it will be more noticed, more taken advantage of and used for learning purposes by all families," she said.
"If we are going to be taken to court for this action, then so be it," she added. "Bring it on, because this is a battle I firmly believe we can win."
However, neither Dan Barker, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, nor Shirley Phelps-Roper, of the Westboro Baptist Church, shared Peryam's assessment of the city's chances in court.
"It looks like a ruse; it looks like a trick for them to keep it," Barker said. "It would probably be unconstitutional because the intention of the city is to maintain a religious document. The reason they are doing that is to keep the Ten Commandments."
Phelps-Roper also felt the decision was unconstitutional.
"What they have done is a thinly veiled attempt to do an end run around the Constitution," she said. "What they did here was try to create a way to avoid having to deal with what the 10th Circuit said they must do."
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year, in the case of Summum v. Ogden, that a city that displays a Ten Commandments monument must also display monuments espousing less-popular beliefs.
Barker was unable to say what his organization's next move on the matter of Casper's Ten Commandments would be. Phelps-Roper said her church would examine its options, including litigation.
City Manager Tom Forslund said the Ten Commandments monument would probably be removed from City Park and placed in temporary storage within the next month.
The plan for the historic plaza is based on one implemented by Grand Junction, Colo. The plaza withstood a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2001.
The Ten Commandments will be joined in the new plaza by monuments honoring the Declaration of Independence, the preamble of the Constitution and other documents vital to the historic development of American law, Forslund said.
Design work on the historic plaza is expected to begin this winter and bidding should take place next spring. The new monuments for the plaza are expected to cost $4,500-$5,500 each.