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Culture clash

A student-carved statue that was removed from a high school by the Hawaii Department of Education last month will be soon put back in place.

The representation of Kanaloa—who some say is a Hawaiian god, and others say is a historical figure—was taken down after a Christian clergyman complained that it was a religious symbol and should not be on public school property.

The statue, known as a tiki, was built by students at Waianae High School, which is located across the street from a church in an area of Oahu with a large native Hawaiian population.

The fact that flowers and other items were placed at the base of the tiki—a practice that is common in Hawaii—appeared to reinforce the perception that the statue had religious meaning.

Because of those concerns, state officials ordered the removal of the tiki, which had been erected in February.

That step made students upset, and even the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, a group that opposes religious practices in public schools, said the department had acted too quickly.

The ACLU said the tiki did not violate the First Amendment's ban on government-established religion because most people would not view it as religious.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Earl I. Anzai weighed in with an opinion saying the tiki was permissible as long as it was displayed as a work of art and not worshiped as a religious icon.

The controversy was eventually resolved earlier this month when education officials met with members of the community to discuss the matter.

Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the education department, suggested that students had learned from the experience. "Everyone has a deeper understanding of First Amendment rights," he said.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 36, Page 22

Published in Print: May 17, 2000, as State Journal

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