The Oakland Zoo removed a monument enscribed with the Ten Commandments from its property Wednesday. days before a planned weekend protest by a local atheist groups.
Zoo officials said the removal had been scheduled previously and was not related to plans by the East Bay Atheists and Atheists Advocates of San Francisco, which intended to picket the zoo to demand that the monument be removed.
"We had been wanting to do it for a long time," said Joel Parrott, CEO and president of the zoo. He said he began thinking about taking down the monuments when lawsuits over the religious displays on public land began arising in the early 2000s. "Now, it just seemed like it was a proper time."
Protest organizers said they were surprised at the zoo's decision but do not think the zoo's timing was only a coincidence.
"That's totally unprecedented," said Joey Piscitelli, a Martinez resident who has complained to the city previously about the monument. "They wanted to thwart the demonstrations and keep this out of the public eye."
The 6-foot marble sculpture of enscribed stone tablets has been on zoo property since 1965 when the area was a state park, according to Parrott. The monument was not near to any of the main animal exhibits, but close to the Snow Building, a facility overlooking the city that the zoo often rents out to community groups.
Piscitelli, who identified himself as a pagan, said he had rented the building and that his guests were "shocked" to see the religious display. In a letter to the city and Mayor Jean Quan in May, he called the monument "prejudicial" and said it denigrates the views of non-Christian zoo visitors.
Parrott said the zoo rarely received complaints about the monument.
The protest, originally scheduled for Sunday, will not happen. Piscitelli said the groups will be thanking the zoo for their decision instead.