Castle Rock Town Council scolded for statue removal, God issue

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A Castle Rock business owner recently told the town council that its Aug. 6 decision to remove a bronze sculpture from town hall because in the future it might offend someone is setting a “dangerous precedent.”

“A government entity has stifled freedom of speech,” said K.C. Neel, owner of Castle Rock Bike & Ski, at the Aug. 20 town council meeting. “You chose to impose your set of standards for reasons known only to you.”

The sculpture, bought in 2012 by the Castle Rock Public Art Commission — which is funded by private companies and individuals and an annual allocation of Philip S. Miller Trust Fund money — was a bronze sculpture about 8 inches high depicting a melting earth, with a bird looking on, and accompanied by a plaque inscribed with the words, “Global Warming.”

Neel said there hadn't been one complaint lodged at the town clerk's office in the eight months the sculpture was in the town hall, and she was concerned about decisions like this in the midst of a movement to establish an arts district in downtown Castle Rock.

“Do you really think we're going to have artists come to a town that censors art?” she asked.

She also asked if intolerance and repression is really the kind of reputation “we want Castle Rock to have.”

“I strongly urge you to think twice if something like this comes up again … because I would really hope and pray and plead with you not to make this Castle Rock's legacy,” Neel said.

The decision to remove the statue happened Aug. 6 after Mayor Paul Donahue told the council that he had noticed the statue with the “global warming” plaque and it occurred to him that “it really doesn't make sense for the town of Castle Rock to be financing pieces of art that could advocate a certain political position, particularly on a subject that could contentious like global warming.”

The council consensus was to remove it. Then, later that evening, the council considering another recommendation initiated by Donahue, and approved putting the words “In God We Trust” in town council chambers on an overhang that would face the audience.

The council voted 7-0 to OK that, but before Councilmember Chip Wilson voted, he expressed concern, pointing out that while the council had discussed the sculpture's removal because it might be considered contentious, it now was approving something that might be considered contentious by others.

Donahue at the Aug. 20 meeting responded to Neel's concerns and those of another member of the public who also had expressed concerns about the statue's removal — as well as the placement of the words “In God We Trust” into the town hall chambers.

“There's a big difference between trampling on constitutional rights and what we did last week or two weeks ago,” Donahue said. “I think anyone, anyone, private individual in Castle Rock has the right to put up whatever statue they want and we're not going to impede on that.”

But Donahue said that when public funds are being spent, the council does have a say on “what goes up and what represents the town of Castle Rock and we'll continue to do that.”

Donahue said the council will defend individuals' rights to do that “and we'll defend their rights to make it happen, but there's a big difference between the two.”

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