Hogan's goat comes to Columbia

COLUMBIA, Mo 1/4/2016 (Op Ed) --  I can just hear my poor mother, as we circled the monuments at the Boone County Courthouse, coming to the Desert Storm Memorial honoring fallen soldiers Steven Farnen and Patrick Connor. 

"That looks like Hogan's goat," she'd doubtless say, about the so-called "Jesus Fish," or Ichthus, that someone has filed off, leaving a brownish stain behind. "Why couldn't they just leave it alone until they moved it?" 

"Hogan's goat," for curious readers, was mom's expression of disgust over the tacky, inelegant, crass, unkempt, or otherwise hastily-cobbled.   She would be 87 this year, and horrified at how little dignity our government officials both exhibit -- and allow their suffering supplicants.    

The Hogan's goat aspects of the Jesus Fish controversy are many.   It's been like fingernails on a chalkboard or the slow wrenching of a sticky bandage from a hairy, sensitive body part. 

After 23 years on the courthouse lawn, an "inquiry" to the Boone County Commission over the necessary separation of church and state prompted Commissioners to glue a plaque over it.   

No lawsuit.  No judicial order.  No public hearings.  Just an inquiry. 

As mom would note, that's some prompt government action right there.   An inquiry about the annual budget, the County Assessor's developer-friendly "farmland scam," or more funding for the Central Missouri Humane Society would have required hundreds of people writing, testifying, threatening litigation, going to the media -- or an election year -- to get such fast action. 

But about a symbol of Christianity -- the faith everyone loves to bash -- an inquiry from an out-of-state group was all it took to set County attorney CJ Dykhouse into action.  Commissioners covered the Ichthus, prompting a Memorial Day veteran's organizer to charge they were acting like a "one party ruled banana republic." 

About a year later, someone added a handsome new Ichthus to the Ichthus cover and the sky fell over the County Commission.  Calls to remove the entire monument prompted an outcry to remove the cover over the original Ichthus.  

Commissioners voted to remove the monument. 

Neither the Ichthus cover nor the Ichthus on the cover looked like Hogan's goat, though I'm sure my  mother would consider the entire affair an example of Hogan-like governance.  "Why can't they pave County roads with this kind of ardor?" she'd doubtless wonder.  

Scraping off the new Ichthus only to leave a brownish stain behind would have been going too far in mom's book of etiquette.   "At least they could have scrubbed off the old adhesive," she'd have said.

My mother -- who passed away in 1994 -- brought me up to view religion as both faith and culture.   You needn't worship the faith, but you should respect the culture.   When I was a teenager growing up in Nevada (the state), I spent about a year visiting other religions. 

Raised Catholic, I attended services at every Protestant faith in my hometown Carson City -- Lutheran, Episcopalian, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, and so forth -- while visiting with a rabbi and the leaders of the Bahai faith and Unification Church.   I was unaware of Islam, but had we a mosque, I doubtless would have visited or attended services there, too. 

I wanted to learn about various faiths and how to respect the cultures behind them, the deeply-flawed and oh-so-human institutions we erect to worship.   My mother considered it basic etiquette to do as the Romans do when in Rome, and to her, nothing was more basic than a person's religion.   

Certainly, from a legal perspective, scraping off the Ichthus may have been the safe and Constitutional thing to do.  

But now the monument looks like Hogan's goat, an act of impoliteness and even disrespect in mom's eyes.  

I can just hear another mom-ism to describe the Commissioners who've let this happen.

"What a bunch of horse's patooties," she'd say.