Monday, July 13, 2009

Roadside Shrines

There is an article in the NYTimes discussing whether spontaneous roadside shrines should be banned.

The reasons against the shrines:

1. It is public space, and the shrines tend to use religious symbols (primarily crosses); thus, they violate separation of church and state.

2. In a related vein, they use public property for private purposes.

3. They are actually a danger; they can distract and, if someone stops to keep up the site, the can create additional hazard, especially on a busy street (this point, of course, varies from location to location, but, if the problem is that someone died in a car accident on a hazardous road, this creates greater hazard).

The reasons to let them be:

1. Legislate all you want, but these shrines are weighted with a great deal of tradition, they are spontaneous, and represent a form of folk religion--the point is, legislate all you want, take them down, and people are going to do it anyway (I tend to agree with this point).

2. They help the grieving process...although others see them as an unwelcome intrusion of morbidity. I have to say, however, that my response to these shrines is that they remind me that I am on a hazardous road and need to be more careful--so, for me, it helps my driving. Perhaps in a society where we avoid confronting death so much, we need reminders of the fragility of life.

3. They represent spontaneous acts of free expression. On this point, they should be allowed BECAUSE they are in public space. They represent the values of creative free expression, and, as such, should be protected under the first amendment.

These are the positions of those contributing to the debate in the article. I tend to think they should be considered on a case-by-case basis on issues of whether they are actually hazardous, etc. And, if they are exercises of free expression that represent folk religion not governed by any authority (of the church or the state), and I am allowed to freely exercise my religious views and practices in public space (it is that the government is not allowed to do so--that's how I read the constitution anyway) then any attempt at broad-based legislation will be futile. Was denkst du?

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