Well, it finally happened! The Christian zealots have finally found a religious icon not related to JudeoChristianity on public property, and they're making a stink. David Engle was at the KC Zoo last weekend, and witnessed the abuse of religious power that Buddhism has over the zoo staff. There are apparently two statues of Buddha flanking the entrance of the Tiger Trail, and despite protests by the zoo management that they were only meant as decoration and to represent Asia, it was clear to Mr. Engle that they were there specifically and only for worship, to the exclusion of all other Asian belief systems.
Actually, while I do think the zoo wasn't trying to promote any religious bias, I have to somewhat agree with Mr. Engle on this one. After the fuss and protest about the bias given towards Christianity in the public square, the oversensitized feelings of all parties needs to be taken into account (including theists).
I haven't seen these Buddha statues, so I don't know if they are a traditional version (like a bodhisattva) or more in line with a Hotei, or "laughing Buddha". Either way, while Buddha statues aren't quite as common around these parts as crucifixes, they still represent a sectarian philosophical religion (albeit one that is nominally atheistic in nature), and should probably be taken down.
It's somewhat of a sad statement of today's overhyped sensationalism regarding religious iconography in the public square. While I do think there is too much influence of specifically Christian icons, references and symbolism in American government and the public square -- especially instances where it is intentionally used for sectarian influence -- there still needs to be some acknowledgement of the history and heritage of all cultures, which includes the religious traditions.
I would be very curious to know if the Buddhist community in KC pushed the zoo to adopt the Buddha statues for the Tiger Trail. This would be similar to the illegal influence of Christian groups who pushed (successfully) to get religious symbols, words and phrases inserted into official government places ("Under God" in the Pledge, "In God We Trust" on our currency, Christmas Trees in the capitol rotundas, etc). If they did, then it is definitely a case of state/religion comingling that shouldn't happen.
But if it was simply a case where the zoo employee thought the statues looked "Asian", then it is probably not quite so bad. Either way, the statues should go. After all, we wouldn't want to see all those good Christian kids turning Buddhist because they rubbed the belly of a Buddha!