"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she,
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled massses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-- Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"
Two weeks ago, I took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The day was glorious -- cloudless, bright, and cool. The smell of saltwater, the cries of the seagulls overhead, a city shining in the sun ... it was a wonderful, inspiring trip. As we neared the monument, our tour guide asked if anyone had two pennies. I did, and I handed them over. The guide pinched them between his thumb and forefinger and held them up for all to see.
"This is how thick the copper skin on Lady Liberty is," he said. "And she's stood tall for 120 years, through good times and bad, through war and peace." Then the guide turned and tossed my pennies into the harbor. The symbolism was not lost on us: The statue's value is priceless.
When I got back home, I learned another "Statue of Liberty" was being built here in Memphis by the World Overcomers Church. However, the church had erected a slightly different version. In place of the "lamp beside the golden door" was a cross. No doubt, these folks are quite proud of their desecration of our national symbol. In fact, I'd bet they don't see it as a desecration at all, but as an improvement.
I wonder if they'd feel the same way if someone erected a giant Statue of Liberty with a Hindu goddess on top? Or a hammer and sickle? Or a Star of David? I imagine they wouldn't. And I suspect they have no idea of how precisely they have defaced the very meaning of the statue itself: Lady Liberty's torch serves as a beacon that welcomes one and all -- regardless of religion or creed -- to the American melting pot. To replace that torch of freedom with a particular religious symbol says, "If you don't worship our way, find another country to live in." It's unbelievably misguided and ignorant.
Because America allows freedom of expression, the World Overcomers have every right to "redesign" the Statue of Liberty any way they see fit.
But I wouldn't give them two cents for it.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...