June 11, 2011 / 12:56 AM / 7 years ago

Image of Hindu deity sparks protest in northern Idaho

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A group of self-described constitutionalists protested on Friday a northern Idaho city’s dedication of a sculpture depicting a Hindu deity.

On its website, the Kootenai County Constitution Party called on Christians to vent their dismay about the “abomination” on a street in Coeur d‘Alene and lashed out at local arts officials as a “godless group.”

“Ganesha,” a blue-hued metal sculpture by Spokane, Washington artist Rick Davis, represents the multi-armed, elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.

It is one of 15 loaned artworks to be dedicated by Coeur d‘Alene and arts commission officials Friday evening, the kickoff of a program that underwrites the year-long display in public spaces of sculptures that are available for purchase.

Officials in Coeur d‘Alene, an affluent, lakeside resort of 44,000, said they are perplexed by the gnashing over Ganesha.

They said it is an irony that professed constitutionalists were not prepared to honor First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom and would be met with a counter-protest.

“People are coming to protest the protesters,” said Steve Anthony, city liaison to the Coeur d‘Alene Arts Commission.

On its web site, the Kootenai Constitution Party welcomes “patriots” and describes its aim “to restore constitutionally limited government” in a nation founded “not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Anthony said a citizen’s committee was guided by criteria such as artistic merit in selecting 15 art works, adding: “We looked at this as something positive.”

The controversy is a blow for a city that promotes itself as a destination for international travelers and still smarts from the stigma associated with northern Idaho as the historic home of the white supremacy group Aryan Nations.

“The majority of residents here are very tolerant,” Anthony said.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton

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