Atheists and Secularists can calm down, the celebration planned in Manitou Springs honoring the Greek goddess Hebe, who’s been surveying her domain from atop the town clock for 118 years now, won’t threaten the Republic with an unlawful establishment of state religion after all.
After Gazette reporter Andrea Brown wrote about a case of mistaken idolatry in the February 7th edition, questions were raised about whether a planned “Celebration of Hebe” being sponsored by Historic Manitou Springs, the local historical society, would constitute a First Amendment violation of the separation of church and state.
It seems that for all these years Hebe has been standing in the shadow of her more famous cousin, Hygeia. Historian Deborah Harrison discovered that the goddess who graces the town clock is actually Hebe, the daughter of Zeus, and the goddess of eternal youth.
Historic Manitou Springs has ordered 15 statues of Hebe that will be painted by local artists for a celebration in May, and then sold to benefit the historical society.
When the story hit the papers, some comments were heard about potential violations of the “wall of separation” between church and state. Hebe is after all a Greek goddess, and as such, a state-sponsored or funded celebration in her honor could be viewed as a religious event.
This is not the only time that Hebe has been dissed by government. Back in 2005, the city of Roseburg, Oregon had it’s own little Hebe tempest going. It seems that back in 1908, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the ’95 Mental Culture Club erected a fountain in Roseburg dedicated to temperance, and topped it with a statue of Hebe.
According to a 2005 story by reporter John Sowell in Roseburg’s The News Review, the Douglas County Museum of History & Natural History had planned an exhibit of a Hebe statue as part of a display about the historic fountain during Women’s History Month. A group of Roseburg residents had been gathering funds and were hoping to reconstruct the fountain and statue, which was destroyed in 1912. The Douglas County Commissioners banned the museum exhibit, saying “this issue is very divisive in our county.”
It seems as though critics thought that Hebe was an anti-Christian icon, claiming it was associated with paganism and Wicca, a claim denied by both Wiccans and Pagans.
But not to worry, the Celebration of Hebe in Manitou Springs is a privately funded event by Historic Manitou Springs, which is not a government agency, so there’s no First Amendment implications.
People should feel free to attend the celebration, which Deborah Harrison describes as “a celebration of our statue, not worship.” Go ahead and bid on a Hebe statute and express your own freedom of religion and right to freedom of assembly, and help out a very worthy cause in the process. Oh, and you might want to grab a sip of water at the town fountain, just in case it has been blessed by Hebe and actually is the fountain of youth. You just never know.