The American Civil Liberties Union argued in the Supreme Court this week that two Kentucky counties violated the First Amendment ban on Congress establishing a religion when they posted the Ten Commandments in their courthouses.
"They have erected displays highlighting the religious nature of the Ten Commandments," quotes Knight-Ridder from the ACLU's brief. "They have announced their purpose of demonstrating 'America's Christian heritage.'"
But so far, the ACLU has not made a peep about the Smithsonian's new federally funded National Museum of the American Indian, which posts Native American prayers on the federal Mall.
The museum also features exhibits critical of Christianity -- a faith embraced by the majority of American Indians, including the great Apache leader Geronimo, who Samuel Eliot Morrison noted "became a Christian convert and lived both to write his autobiography and take part in the inaugural procession of President Roosevelt in 1905." Is this federally funded institution treating all religions equally?
The museum admits it has an "agenda." In its "Our Peoples" exhibit, a man on a video explains the museum's approach: "This gallery is making history, and like all other makers of history, it has a point of view, an agenda." he says. "We offer self-told histories of selected Native communities. Other communities, other perspectives, would have achieved different results. ... So view what's offered with respect, but also skepticism. Explore this gallery. Encounter it. Reflect on it. Argue with it."
A "mission" statement on the museum's website says it aims "to protect, support and enhance the development, maintenance and perpetuation of Native culture and community."
But where does it draw the line between supporting Native "culture" and supporting Native religion?
The "Our Universes" exhibit explains the religions of some Native peoples. At the entrance, a cotemporary Native American is quoted:
Our elders have created for us
A sacred way of being in the universe.
It is our responsibility
To pass this understanding on
To the next generation.
Native prayers are painted prominently on walls.
One section discusses the "machi" clergy of Chile's Mapuche people. "They are mediators -- between gods and people, ancestors and the living, sickness and health -- and between the Mapuche and other peoples," says a panel.
A contemporary machi's prayer adorns a wall: