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Religious tablet's removal irks some

Park's decision questioned in R.I.

PROVIDENCE -- Some residents are dismayed over the removal of a Ten Commandments tablet that had been at Roger Williams Park for four decades.

City officials removed the monument with the basic Christian tenets in the fall, with no advance announcement. The act surprised some people, including Raymond Dempsey, who cohosts a weekly cable television show called ''Chapter and Verse."

''Once the state thinks it's God, and that it is the source of our rights, we're in trouble," Dempsey told The Providence Journal. ''I wish we could have known about this before. We could have had a rousing dialogue."

The monument was given to the city in 1963 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, whose Ten Commandments tablets in other places -- such as Austin, Texas, and two counties in Kentucky -- have sparked legal battles that have gone all the way to the US Supreme Court. The court will hear those cases in February, according to The Journal.

Last month, the Bush administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the Ten Commandments display should be allowed because it helps to underscore that America's rule of law was built on the Ten Commandments, the newspaper reported.

In Providence, A. Gregory Frazier, a former lawyer who volunteers for the American Civil Liberties Union, protested the 8-foot-tall monument's display to city leaders. Adrienne Southgate, deputy city solicitor, said there were some questions on whether Frazier's claim was valid, but the city decided it was not worth the money to wage a court battle.

''Is a monument that tells people how to behave a reflection of the ethos of the Founding Fathers, or is it government sponsorship of religion?" Southgate asked.

The city tracked down an Eagles branch, and offered the monument back. The Eagles removed it in September. It is in front of the group's West Warwick headquarters on Main Street.

The Rev. John Holt, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said he had mixed feelings on the matter.

''The Ten Commandments are part of the moral tradition of this country," he said, ''but I'm also a firm believer in the separation of church and state and that the boundary needs to be protected."

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