KALISPELL — The Kalispell City Council has declined to take possession of a Ten Commandments statue and move it to a prominent location on city-owned land in downtown Kalispell.
The council last week decided that accepting the statue could lead to legal problems involving separation of church and state.
"It's a nice gesture, and it's a nice thought, but ultimately I don't think it's worth the trouble," said Councilor Randy Kenyon.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles asked the council to take possession of the statue and six others that include historical texts from the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence that together form a "cornerstone of law" display.
The Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association threatened legal action if such a move took place.
"A lot of people have really strong feelings about the Ten Commandments personally, and I respect that," said Ian Cameron, the founder of FASHA.
"It could mean something to me even, but the issue here is not what it means to us personally. It's about whether or not we want our government to be making those decisions for us or to be promoting those ideas."
The FOE gave the Ten Commandments statue to Flathead County in 1950, and it was placed in front of the courthouse. The display was challenged several years ago, and local Eagles, led by Fred Bryant, raised money to purchase the other statues that would make it a display about laws, not religion.
But the county moved the monuments from the front of the courthouse to the southwest corner during a courthouse renovation completed in 2011. Bryant then sought to have the city take possession and move them next to the current veterans' memorial in Depot Park.
"The other monuments that had been purchased to support the Ten Commandments monument are pretty important to veterans," said Bryant, a Navy veteran. "I and many others had fought for those ideas, and quite a few people have died for them."
County Administrator Mike Pence said the statues can't be moved back to their old location in front of the courthouse because of underground utilities.
"We moved them to a spot that we thought would be a good place on the campus," Pence said. "We're fine with them being where they are."
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