Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dewitt column: A little subtlety could have helped Brooksville Common

It's a shame that it came to this.

The people at the First United Methodist Church of Brooksville no doubt wanted to do good for the city when they planned and built the Brooksville Common, a public courtyard next to their downtown sanctuary.

They put up most of the $240,000 cost of the project, and just about all of the rest came from other donors.

Only $10,000 was public money — a grant from the Brooksville Community Redevelopment Agency — and it doesn't appear it was essential to complete the common. It has been open since May, and the church still hasn't received a dime of the grant.

So, what does the church get for its efforts, for contributing to a pressing public need — beautifying downtown Brooksville?

A letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation demanding that the park lose its religious imagery.

If you've talked to the people who built the park, you know that's not going to happen. They really love their religious imagery.

Fortunately, the foundation offered an option: The church doesn't get the public money.

Church members and people sympathetic to them are likely to be outraged at this outside interference, to see it as yet another example of secularism gone wild.

But it's not, really. And if sending the letter — backed by an implied threat of a lawsuit — is intrusive and maybe a little bit petty, it's also a necessary reminder of the need to maintain the constitutional wall between church and state.

What's more, it all could have been avoided if the church had just toned things down, if it had built the common to actually be what it claims to be: a church-owned space with a standing invitation to the public.

I'm quite sure that no local resident would have alerted the foundation — which is, by the way, what it requires to take action — if the common's designers had limited themselves to, say, the inlaid cross pattern in the pavement.

The same goes for the plaques dedicated to such religiously themed but generally uplifting messages as compassion. And who would be bothered, upon entering the courtyard, by the sight of the logo of the United Methodist Church?

Nobody. It is church property. Those of us who are not Christian or not religious at all would understand. A little bit of subtlety and we would buy the main argument in the city's response to the foundation: The CRA's beautification fund is available to any property owner in the downtown district regardless of religious affiliation. Most of us would even be willing to overlook the fact that this fund was created with property tax money and that the church, of course, doesn't pay taxes.

But the law is clear that public money can't help further a religious cause. And the common now furthers the cause all over the place.

It features loads of religious symbolism and, of course, a big, bold overt statement of religious intent: the Ten Commandments carved right at the entrance.

It's enough to give an ironic twist to the Methodist motto of "open hearts, open minds" because there's no doubt the idea is to evangelize. It invites believers but preaches to nonbelievers.

And that brings us to a constitutional principle that is about as basic as such principles get: The public doesn't pay for preaching.

Dewitt column: A little subtlety could have helped Brooksville Common 07/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 10:49am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. NFL commissioner calls Trump remarks on national anthem 'divisive'

    Bucs

    HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The commissioner of the National Football League says President Donald Trump's comments about players who kneel during the national anthem are "divisive" and show an "unfortunate …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  2. Forecast: Tampa Bay's first fall weekend brings scattered showers

    Weather

    It may officially be fall, but Tampa Bay won't have any cooler temperatures this weekend.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Romano: The choice does not have to be poverty or gentrification

    Local Government

    The memories must be protected. The music and the lore, too.

    The owner of Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food is refusing to give the city information on the restaurant's sales as required by his contract to occupy the city-owned Manhattan Casino. The information is needed to calculate whether the nonprofit Urban Development Solutions, headed by Larry Newsome, owes the city more than the $3,000 monthly base rent.
  4. Tests show North Korea earthquake not caused by nuclear test

    World

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's weather agency said a magnitude 3.2 earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday close to where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural.

    People watch a TV news program reporting North Korea's earthquake, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. South Korea's weather agency said an earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday around where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural. The signs read " The weather agency said a magnitude 3.0 earthquake was detected in North Korea." [Associated Press]
  5. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]