Art to reduce stress sparks religious debate in Delano


An artist’s proposal to build a labyrinth in Delano as part of a public art project is on hold for now after city leaders raised concern that it has religious overtones.

The Delano Parks and Recreation Commission and Delano-Franklin Township Area Historical Society had already approved the installation, but the City Council has voted to table the application until its August meeting.

“Clearly, it implies, as I see it, a religious nature to it,” Councilman Jason Franzen said, according to the Delano Herald Journal.

He cited the website for Veriditas, with which artist Lisa Moriarty is associated, the paper says. It embraces labyrinths as “a spiritual tool that has many applications in various settings. It reduces stress, quiets the mind and opens the heart. It is a walking meditation, a path of prayer, and a blue-print where psyche meets Spirit.”

Does that make it an unconstitutional addition to the public space in Delano?

“The antecedents are from various pagan, ancient, and Christian backgrounds . . . If it was a cross, that would be a different thing because that’s a Christian proposal. This has religious antecedents, but it has a secular purpose, too. I don’t think it’s a Constitutional issue of church versus state,” City attorney Mark Johnson said.

“If someone wants to put this on private land, I say, ‘So be it,’” countered Franzen. “If we grant this proposal, what basis would we have to not allow similar innocuous representations like a display of the 10 Commandments, Stations of the Cross, or perhaps a religious figure like St. Francis or Jesus?”

“Have we looked at the artist who built the horse to see if he had a religious background or if the horse had any horsy religion?” Councilwoman Betsy Stolfa said. “I think that’s just human, not necessarily religious, to be self-reflective.”

When Franzen compared a labyrinth to Michelangelo’s Pieta sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, Stolfa asked, “Don’t you think there’s a difference between Mary and Jesus and a geometric pattern?”

“I think my historical record is explicit for what these are,” Franzen responded.

Councilman Jack Russek referenced a comment that asked if the city would allow a cross on public property if it allows a labyrinth.

“If you allow one, do you have to allow all?” Russek asked. “You have to be fair. I’ve had mixed thoughts about this since I read it in my packet.”

Johnson said a comparison of a labyrinth to a Christian symbol was not a fair parallel.

“There are a number of antecedents to a variety of religious traditions,” Johnson said. “It’s not parallel to the example of the Pieta. That is specific to Christianity.”

The art work, if approved, would not require public funding.

(h/t: Mike Worcester)