Complaint at Tulsa Zoo

Brings Creation Debate

Faced with a citizen's complaint about a five-foot elephant statue depicting Ganesha, the Hindu god of success, the Tulsa Zoo plans to add an exhibit including the biblical account of creation.

Ross Weller, administration manager for the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department, said the new exhibit will feature the Bible story as well as "the predominant creation stories from other cultures."

Asked what those other cultural representations would be, Weller said, "It's going to take some research on the zoo staff's part to try and discover."

The controversy erupted after Tulsa resident and Christian activist Dan Hicks told the board that oversees the zoo that the 10-year-old elephant exhibit was religious, not educational.

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday that drew comments from 27 speakers, the board voted 3 to 1 to approve the creation exhibit.

"I think this decision by the Park and Recreation Board is a victory for the citizens of Tulsa because the majority view of creation is now going to be represented at the Tulsa Zoo," Hicks told the Daily Oklahoman. "To present both sides of the story, that's education. We certainly hope the Tulsa Zoo is interested in education."

The Washington-based American Humanist Association disagrees and said the new biblical exhibit would violate the First Amendment ban on government promotion of religion.

"There is no comparison between what this deliberate religious display conveys to impressionable children and existing cultural religious references at the zoo," the association's executive director, Tony Hileman, said in a statement.

Hicks first complained about a zoo exhibit showing a time line of world history through scientific theory, Weller said. The new creation exhibit will be next to that display, he said.

Another concern for critics was a large marble globe at the zoo entrance, which they said evoked American Indian religion with its message: "The earth is our mother, the sky is our father."

-- Religion News Service

Anti-Semitism Fine

New York City's Division of Human Rights has fined a Manhattan restaurant for refusing to accommodate the dietary needs of an Orthodox Jew who did not want to drink from a non-kosher cup.

According to a report in the New York Daily News, Nations Cafe was ordered June 2 to pay Israel Steinberg, a congregational rabbi from Brooklyn, $500 for an incident in 1992.

At the time, Steinberg had requested a disposable cup so as not to violate kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. In his complaint, the rabbi said a waiter instructed him to either use a porcelain cup, which was not kosher, or leave the establishment.

Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor, told the Daily News that the waiter had "embarrassed and ridiculed me because I'm Jewish, in front of all the customers."

When Steinberg told the waiter that his actions were illegal, the waiter replied "Get out, you [expletive deleted] Jew."

To investigate the complaint, a staffer from the Division of Human Rights posed as an Orthodox Jew and requested a disposable cup from the restaurant. He, too, reportedly met with anti-Semitism.

The restaurant has been under different management since 2000.

-- Religion News Service

Ordination for Gays

The Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has passed a resolution recommending that the denomination's top legislative body permit ordination for gays in committed relationships.

The resolution, passed June 4, is one of 65 that are expected to be delivered to the church's assembly, which in August will consider whether to bless same-sex unions or allow gays to serve as pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.

The issue of what role gays should play in church leadership has been debated for years by Lutherans and other Protestant denominations. Church policy currently bars sexually active gay men and lesbians from being ordained; those who are celibate are allowed to become ministers.

For the assembly to revise national policies for the church, two-thirds of the 1,100 voting delegates would have to approve.

The church has 96,000 baptized members in the Milwaukee Synod and about 5 million nationwide.

-- Associated Press