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Officials discuss religious symbols

The Dickinson Human Relations Commission began the process of formulating a recommendation to the City Commission regarding religious symbols on public property Friday afternoon.

A lot of questions were posed at the Human Relations Commission meeting, but nothing was decided yet.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel had asked the Dickinson Human Relations Commission to formulate a recommendation as a proactive approach to address questions regarding the display of religious symbols on public property.

"It is important to be proactive so that if someone wants to put something up, the city will have a policy in place and the decision will have more basis than a yes or no, citizens will get answers that are well thought out and to the books," said Jackie Miller, president of the Dickinson Human Relations Commission.

"We have never had an issue, to my knowledge, of people arguing over a display, or being denied the ability to display any religious symbol in the past," Miller said.

The Dickinson Human Relations Commission had City Attorney Matt Kolling speak at their July meeting to answer legal questions and give examples of cases surrounding religious symbols on public property.

"It's a tough subject to address," Miller said.

"We want to be sure that we are giving the city a well grounded recommendation that has been thought through," said Gail Ebeltoft, secretary of the Dickinson Human Relations Commission.

"It is hard to set clear boundaries when society's viewpoint of what is ok and is not ok changes over time," said Miller.

The Human Relations Commission isn't trying to tell the city what to do, it's just giving them insight into what it feels would be a good way to approach the subject, Ebeltoft said.

The questions were posed so the Human Relations Commission could find answers before beginning to write the recommendation.

Some of the concerns that will be addressed in the recommendation are:

- Definition of a religious symbol

- Placement of symbol(s)

- Process for requesting display

- Specification on who can apply

- Purchase of the symbol(s)

- Appeal of denial

- Annual placement of symbol

- Year round placement of symbol

"There needs to be some clear guidelines as to how to get approval, and who will approve the symbol, because without one, how will people know how to approach the subject?" Ebeltoft said.

After discussion of approval, a second set of questions were posed concerning what happens after approval or denial of the symbol.

"A lot of the questions posed today will be answered at our next meeting in October. At that time we will also begin drafting a request to the city commission," Ebeltoft said.

After the Dickinson Human Relations Commission makes its recommendation to the city, the City Commission will discuss it at one of their regularly scheduled meetings, Ebeltoft said.

"Individuals wishing to add public comment should attend that meeting," Ebeltoft said.