Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Sun, March 29

Plaques with Bible quotes<br>to go back up at Grand Canyon

The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary cleans up a plaque at the Desert View Watchtower. Three plaques were removed July 8 but will be going back up pending further review. (Photo courtesy of Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary)

Dave Barna, chief of public affairs for the NPS, said the plaques were put up at Grand Canyon long before legal decisions were made and policies implemented. Therefore, the issue will be studied further.

“There may be a precedent since they’ve been there for so long,” Barna said Monday in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office.

The plaques were installed in 1969 by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary out of Phoenix. Three plaques quoting Psalms verses went up at the Desert View Watchtower, Lookout Studio and Hermit’s Rest.

In a letter dated July 18 to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary’s Sister Daniella, Murphy apologized for the action.

“I regret and apologize for any intrusions that may be resulting from our actions,” Murphy wrote. “Speaking for all of the Department of Interior employees that have been concerned with this matter, I am sure that they have acted as devoted public servants trying to implement legal requirements as best they understood them and that we will regret any difficulties this may have presented to you and to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary.”

When park officials asked Xanterra Parks and Resorts to remove the plaques from the three sites, news of the controversy spread quickly. The decision was reported in the state and national news.

The decision to remove the plaques was made by a committee that included the Department of the Interior’s solicitor’s office, Grand Canyon’s cultural resource specialist and the National Park Service’s Intermountain Region director.

The plaques were returned to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary.

“With your permission, I would like you to return the plaques to our park officials so that they may be returned to their original location and condition,” Murphy wrote in his letter. “We will then promptly undertake the more in-depth legal and policy review that should have taken place prior to these actions being taken.”

It was reported that the American Civil Liberties Union made an inquiry about the plaques, which ultimately led to their removal. An Arizona ACLU representative said after the story had broken that to his knowledge, no recent inquiry had been made.

“There is no doubt that our Constitution and the various laws governing the National Park Service create very significant legal responsibilities that we must follow,” Murphy wrote. “It is just unfortunate that a resolution that had been in place for these many years could be upset without more care and attention to the balance that had been struck.

“I intend to exercise that care and attention,” Murphy continued, “and I would like to return to the historical situation that had been in place while we do that.”

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