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Totems Are Taboo 

But if the court's crucifixation is overblown, let a thousand icons bloom

Wednesday, Aug 28 1996
Three federal judges held last week that the Mount Davidson cross violates California's constitution because the monument's landlord, the city of San Francisco, is not allowed to favor one religion over another. Although the U.S. Supreme Court will likely get its mitts on this ruling before all is said and done, a group of Christian leaders already has begun exploring how to buy the land from the city to save the crucifix from the wrecking ball. That, in turn, has occasioned hue and cry from cross opponents who say a sweetheart deal for a private buyer would distinguish without differentiating: The city would still be treating one denomination preferentially.

The appellate court was willfully ignorant of the profound secular value of the site -- where Clint Eastwood filmed a crucial scene in Dirty Harry. But, even without that transcendent touch-point, you would be forgiven cognitive dissonance about all of this, considering that the city is named after the founder of a zealous monastic order.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, is not a lone ecumenical grouch here; Baptist, Jewish, Unitarian, and Buddhist organizations joined the alliance against the cross. "This is a victory for religious pluralism," ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby told the San Francisco Daily Journal. "The presence of a towering cross in a public park makes San Francisco's many religious minorities feel uncomfortable and unwelcome."

Apparently, token variety doesn't absolve the city of preferentialism. The ruling's author expressly rejected the city's argument that Golden Gate Park's statue of Buddha somehow demonstrated S.F.'s commitment to equal denominational access: "The fact that San Francisco may have other religious symbols in its art collection spread throughout the city does not minimize the cross' effect," wrote Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain.

Fair enough. But crucifixional demolition is not the best answer. A better solution would provide enough significant symbolic representation throughout the city in order to balance out the hilltop cross. So, with a little exercise of eminent domain (and knowing we get the added bonus of leveling or reclaiming some of the most horrid aesthetic detritus in S.F.) we offer the following modest proposals:

* Since its construction in the late '60s, the Bank of America building has resembled nothing so much as a diseased internal organ. Inasmuch as the Episcopalians already own the U.S. Mint, let's give that oxblood skyscraper to the Presbyterians.

* The Catholics should be obliged to demolish the Brazilian kitchen appliance that is St. Mary's Cathedral and replace it with a simple green park dotted by plain wooden benches. Which they then have to give to the Quakers.

* The Baptists get Lake Merced.
* As mystical cousins to the more worldly Masons, the Rosicrucians will be allowed to top the Transamerica Pyramid with their all-seeing eye.

* Level the atrocious, soulless box that is the Cliff House, and allow Druids to build an S.F. Stonehenge. (Qualification: To maintain sightlines, it must be Spinal Tap size.)

* Tibetan Buddhists will be allowed to name the Giants' new China Basin ballpark the Dalai Lama Meadows.

* Zen Buddhists will be given the key to the city -- and not given the key to the city.

* Hindus get the Cow Palace.
* Hasidics will be allowed to place a menorah atop the Drake Hotel, which will thereafter be known as the Starlite of David Room.

* The Reform crowd will be given free passes to all S.F. movie theaters on Easter, Christmas, St. Michaelmas Day, and such other obscure Christian holidays as they are able to lobby the Board of Supervisors to include hereafter.

* Rastafarians get the Cannabis Buyers' Club.
* Fundamentalist Muslims get the Presidio (either mollifying the Bay Guardian by solving one conspiracy theory, or provoking the paper into overcoverage of another).

* Zionists get the Marina Green (which historically was part of the Presidio!).

* Mormons will be given control over the archives at the California Historical Society, in order to turn all members of the S.F. citizenry into descendants of Joseph Smith.

* The Unitarians will be given as much time as they need to divine exactly what it is they want.

* At the Market-Van Ness intersection, former site of Bill Graham's Fillmore West, the homely Honda dealership will be replaced by a space where Deadheads can noodle-dance in memory of Saints Bill and Jerry.

* Followers of est will be required to program their cars' autopilots to pass through special higher-priced tollbooths on both bridges.

* Atheists and secular humanists -- well, they already rule the Western world, now don't they!

* Gnostics get the knowledge of what everyone else has received.
* The Sutro Tower atop Twin Peaks -- better known to victims of electromagnetic fields, as well as anyone with a modicum of taste, as the Devil Tower -- will be donated to Satanists so that they may continue to blight the rest of the city with their cold, heartless, forever-blinking, horned beast.

* Hare Krishnas will be given the air-port.

About The Author

Dirk Olin


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