On Wednesday, the Oakland Zoo removed a monument of the Ten Commandments -- only days before a coalition of local atheist groups planned to protest.
"We had been wanting to do it for a long time," zoo CEO Joel Parrott told the Oakland Tribune, explaining that zoo officials had been considering removing the monument for about a decade. "Now, it just seemed like it was a proper time."
The six-foot marble monument, situated in a part of the zoo away from the animal exhibits but near a building regularly rented out for private events, was placed on the grounds by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1960s.
The zoo is technically owned by the city of Oakland; however, it's operated by the non-profit East Bay Zoological Society. Parrott maintains the monument's presence was neither unconstitutional nor illegal--instead, it was removed to ensure that no one would feel uncomfortable visiting the zoo.
Zoo officials said they hadn't received many negative comments about the statue until recently, when Martinez resident Joey Piscitelli rented the building for his daughter's wedding several years ago and was shocked to discover the Ten Commandments smack in the middle of the best spot to take photos.
"If I had wanted to rent a building with the Ten Commandments on it, I would have rented a church," Piscitelli, an outspoken advocate for survivors or sexual abuse by priests, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's hardly the place to proselytize religion."
Piscitelli sent a letter to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in May demanding the monument's removal and organized the protest after receiving a response from Deputy Oakland City Attorney Mark Morodomi arguing its presence was constitutional.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases elucidating its stance on the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, striking down displays at two Kentucky courthouses while upholding another at the Texas capitol.
The key difference, [Justice Stephen] Breyer said, was that the Kentucky displays stemmed from a governmental effort "substantially to promote religion," and the Texas display served a "mixed but primarily non-religious purpose."
The zoo protest, originally scheduled for this Sunday by the East Bay Atheists and the Atheist Advocates of San Francisco, has since been called off.
In the mean time, feast your eyes on this slideshow of the baby otters, who will never be removed from the Oakland Zoo because they're too adorable: