Rare Reversal: City Officials See Mistake, Scuttle Plan For Creationism Display At Zoo

After some unwanted media attention and lots of angry missives from constituents, Tulsa, Okla. city officials dumped a plan to erect a creationism exhibit at the city zoo.

In early June at the behest of a loud Christian Right activist, the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board voted to allow an exhibit at the Tulsa Zoo depicting the biblical account of God's creation of the world, as described in the Book of Genesis.

Dan Hicks, the Religious Right crank, was not happy with other exhibits at the zoo, which he claimed represented non-Christian religions.

For example, Hicks complained to the park board that a small statue of the Hindu god Ganesha in the zoo's Elephant Encounter Museum amounted to city promotion of Hinduism. Ganesha, lord of wisdom and intelligence, among other fine attributes, is depicted in art as having an elephant's head. A stuffed Dumbo elephant and a paper red, white and blue Republican Party elephant are also included in that display.

Hicks duped the park board and Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune into believing that they needed a Christian display of some sort at the zoo for balance or neutrality.

But the board's decision drew unflattering national news coverage and calls from Tulsa citizens to reverse its action. In July, the Associated Press reported that a group called Friends of Religion and Science had collected close to 2,000 signatures on a petition urging the board to kill the planned exhibit.

Americans United also weighed in with a July 1 letter to the mayor and board members. "The proposed exhibit is by no means secular: It conveys a message of governmental endorsement of a very specific set of Judeo-Christian beliefs not shared by other religions or by many members of the Tulsa community," wrote AU Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee.

The park board voted 3-1 today, over the objections of the mayor, to dump the planned display. One board member told the Tulsa World that the board's decision was partly due to the intense opposition that quickly formed in the community.

It is not easy for politicians to admit mistakes or see their actions as unwise or offensive to the Constitution. This was a rare and welcomed reversal by government officials. There are, no doubt, plenty of forums in Tulsa for discussion, debate and display of creationist and other religious dogma -- the city zoo, a proper setting and home for nature's creatures and beasts, was never among them.