Anybody can put up religious displays on Tempe Butte. Well, anybody that runs the idea by the Tempe City Council and gets the Tempe City Council to approve their religious display.
So don't count on getting an easy approval of your religious display to worship the wine god Dionysus or the sex god Venus. And don't even think about putting up something worshiping the Flying Spaghetti Monster god who is the true creator of the universe.
Former Tempe city councilman J.G. “Hut” Hutson is responsible for starting this religious display on the Tempe Butte.
The 3 Wise Men are displayed during Christmas and a Cross goes up during Easter. But the city of Tempe says it isn't mixing religion and government. What BS!
3 Wise Men go up again on Tempe Butte
By Kaila White The Republic | azcentral.com Thu Dec 6, 2012 6:55 AM
Three 20-foot kings on camels took their place on Tempe Butte on Saturday for the 78th time, an annual holiday tradition that has endured changes in laws, caretakers and the city of Tempe itself.
The flat, wooden kings ride white camels and point east, different only in the color of their cloaks and head scarves, which are red, orange and blue. They stand on the southern side of the butte, just west of the “A” that lends the butte its nickname, “A” Mountain.
This group of kings is likely the third generation, said J.G. “Hut” Hutson, a former vice mayor for the city who cared for the kings for more than 20 years. They first appeared on the mountain in 1934 along with a lit-up star. One decoration was built by students at Tempe High School and the other by Arizona State University professor Lewis S. Neeb, though Hutson said he has never been able to figure out who created which decoration.
Tempe sponsored their installation and upkeep until December 1983, when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the use of state funds on religious decorations. Asked for help by then-Mayor Harry Mitchell, Hutson formed a group of about 20 family members and friends, calling it Friends of Tempe Butte.
“We had anticipated putting them up for a couple years,” Hutson said. “One or two years turned out to be 25.”
During his first year of overseeing the kings, Hutson had them completely remade, spending his own money. He never actually received the original camels, just their plans, so he had them rebuilt through a Department of Corrections business program at the state prison in Florence.
After fighting with the ACLU and having the camels rebuilt a second time, Hutson decided in the late 2000s to return the project to the city. Enter Doug Royse, a lifetime Tempe resident with a passion for the community.
“I’m a local Realtor, and giving to the community has always been one of my wishes,” he said. He took on the project and recruited a friend.
Royse stood on Tempe Butte on Saturday with his co-caretaker, Mick Hirko, owner of T.E.A.M. Security. Along with about a dozen volunteers, they rode up the butte in the back of a flatbed truck carrying the kings, each in three pieces.
“To us, it’s not a religious issue,” Hirko said. “It’s, I guess, a freedom issue and something that has been part of the community for so many years, so we want to make sure it stays around for a long time.”
The majority of the volunteers for the past few years have been Hirko’s employees and Royse’s friends, almost all of whom know each other through mutual board positions or volunteer time with Tempe Oktoberfest or the Tempe Exchange Club and its annual Healing Field.
“I think it’s important if you live and work in a community, you’ve got to give something back,” Hirko said. He stores the kings and pays for their maintenance and the electricity used to illuminate them, a total of $500 or $600 per year, he said.
For all their history and renovations, the installation of the kings was surprisingly simple. The volunteers carried the pieces up a path near the top of the butte and chained the bases to metal poles resembling goalposts. The middle sections, the camels’ bellies, were hoisted up by hand, and the kings were lifted with a pulley. It was then all bolted together.
The kings and the floodlights illuminating them have seen their fair share of vandalism, ranging from lights being kicked in to an entire king being cut from the poles.
“For Easter, we put up a big cross and lit it up, and last year, two days before Easter, (people) came up and broke it into a million pieces. We’re worried about the same thing happening,” Hirko said. He and Royse hope to host a fundraiser to make new kings out of metal or plastic, to make them harder to destroy and easier to carry.
“They’re getting old and tired,” he said, laughing.
Until then, Royse said, he is just glad to have enough volunteers to keep the tradition alive.
Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe Cesspool for the Arts