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'Peace Pole' Offer Stirs Concern in Surf City

Panel advises rejecting gift for Huntington Beach library, citing constitutional concerns.

March 30, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

While presumably no one in Huntington Beach disputes the desire for world peace, a proposal to promote it by planting a six-foot pole in front of the library is dividing city officials who worry about the separation of church and state.

The "peace pole" was offered to the city by the local Church of Religious Science, but the City Council's advisory library board rejected it, worrying that the precedent would allow other religious organizations to erect their own messages.

The City Council is scheduled to decide Monday whether to accept the $600 pole, for placement in front of either the library or City Hall.

Councilwoman Debbie Cook opposes accepting the six-sided pole, which would read "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in six languages.

"I just don't think we need to erect monuments that state the obvious," Cook said. "It raises constitutional issues we don't need to delve into. We've got pot-holes to fill. Let's stick to our core business."

Since the peace poles were introduced in 1975 by the World Peace Prayer Society in New York, more than 200,000 have been erected in 180 countries, according to the organization. More than 850 monuments have been installed in California, including 50 in Orange County. Typically, they are at churches, synagogues, schools and private residences. The Pentagon chapel has one.

Huntington Beach City Atty. Jennifer McGrath told the City Council last month that the city may accept the gift and place it at the library "without risking control over other materials that may be placed at the library."

But she said she might change her mind after being told that the church wanted to attach a plaque to the monument, signifying that the statue was a gift from the Church of Religious Science.

Library board member Olga Wrobel said the library isn't the place for peace messages.

"I have no quarrel with peace," said Wrobel, one of three members on the seven-person board who voted against the peace pole. Two others voted to accept the pole, and two abstained. "But with the plaque on the pole, it becomes a 'separation of church and state' issue. I think you're just getting into a lot of hot water there. The most valid place for that pole would be in front of their church."

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