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Labyrinth proposal tabled amid religious affiliation concerns
July 25, 2016


DELANO, MN – Would the city of Delano be violating the Constitution if it approved a proposal for a labyrinth, a structure which has had connections to several religions throughout its 4,000-year history?

That is a question City Attorney Mark Johnson has been asked to answer in writing after the council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Holly Schrupp absent, to table the proposal until its next meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2.

“I haven’t researched it, but it would be my impression that it’s not a Constitutional issue,” Johnson said. “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.”

Councilman Jason Franzen first raised the concerns about the religious aspects of labyrinths in a 12-slide PowerPoint presentation.

“Their basic design is fundamental to nature and many cultures and religious traditions,” Franzen said of labyrinths.

According to the website for Veriditas, which proposed labyrinth designer Lisa Moriarty is associated with, a prayer labyrinth involves purgation, or releasing cares and distractions; illumination, or receiving “‘what is there for you’ through prayer and meditation;” and union, or “joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world.”

“Clearly, it implies, as I see it, a religious nature to it. This is something that was backed up by those I referenced, as well,” Franzen said, referring to Father Nathan LaLiberte, of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, and the Revs. Pete Johansson and Josh Hutchcraft, of the Delano Evangelical Free Church.

“The central point of my references is that labyrinths do represent a sectarian purpose,” Franzen concluded. “I believe they should be denied funding, as well as the use of public land . . . If someone wants to put this on private land, I say, ‘So be it.’ 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?”

Councilwoman Betsy Stolfa noted that no religious purpose was mentioned in the application for the labyrinth, which was supported by the Delano Parks and Recreation Commission and Delano-Franklin Township Area Historical Society, which is required as part of the city’s public art policy.

“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?” Stolfa said. “I think the artist is separate from the applicants.”

She went on to quote what the applicants stated as the purpose of the labyrinth.

“The applicants are saying their purpose is an attraction to benefit residents . . . invite them to stop, take some time and slow down, walk, and enjoy some unhurried time. These people can walk into downtown to eat, have a drink, and shop before moving on,” Stolfa said.

She added that she did not believe using a labyrinth to be a strictly religious practice.

“I think that’s just human, not necessarily religious, to be self-reflective,” Stolfa said.

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.”

Regardless of the debate centering around religious affiliation, Mayor Dale Graunke said the project proposed for the art walk across from Peppermint Twist would not be utilizing public funds.

“No matter what, we’re building a flat spot up there,” Graunke said of the plateau that would hold the labyrinth if approved. “It’s not just for this project. Public funds are not a part of it. We’ve had a plan to flatten out that land forever. Saying we’re using public funds for this proposal is reading into it a little bit.”

The plateau will be created using materials from the street and infrastructure improvement project, and installation of the labyrinth would take place in the spring or summer of 2017, if approved.

It would consist of volunteers installing pavers flush with the ground with the help of Moriarty.

“Who’s going to maintain it?” Russek asked.

Applicant Jill Woodward, of the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture, said the pavers would be flush with the ground so they could be mowed over.

“She hasn’t had experiences with them really shifting around very much for several years,” Woodward said of Moriarty. “The council for arts and culture would be willing to check those pavers each spring to make sure they don’t need to be adjusted.”

If approved, the labyrinth would be funded by grants and donations the council for arts and culture has received.

Odds and ends
In other business, the council:

• approved a site plan for a Fox Meadow neighborhood park, to be paid for by $83,000 in park-dedication fees collected at the time of the development. The budget includes about $24,817 for a sport court, $20,371 for playground equipment, $10,000 for concrete, $7,500 for site prep and finishing, $3,731 for a shade structure, and $3,000 for landscaping. Fox Meadow neighbors have volunteered to do much of the work.

• approved a parking lot layout for a total of forty-nine 90-degree angled parking spaces, including one disability space, for the parking lot west of Second Street. It was noted that public works staff preferred this option over 45-degree parking because it allows for two-way traffic and will make it easier to plow snow. Stolfa made a motion for a median to be landscaped rather than concrete, which passed 3-1, with Russek opposed due to concerns regarding maintenance.

• closed the meeting to discuss the possibility of litigation against Wright County related to the approval of a solar array at 3527 Highway 12, west of the city’s West Metro Business Park. The council will decide during the meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, whether or not to proceed with litigation. The time of that meeting was moved to accommodate the National Night Out schedule of events.

• approved requests for the following events: the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Taste of Delano event Wednesday, Aug. 3, at Central Park; a “Move in the Park” event for Saturday, Aug. 6; the DACC annual city-wide garage sales and Crazy Days sales Thursday, Aug. 18, through Saturday, Aug. 20; and various licenses related to the Church of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s annual Harvest Festival.

• approved a quote of $1,364 from Bike Fixtation for a bike repair and tire pump station for the Riverfront Park.

• authorized an increase in hours for the part-time building inspector to 32 hours per week, up from 20 to 30 hours per week.

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