Crosses on Government Property Stir Controversy

Friday, March 07, 2014
Bladensburg Peace Cross (photo: Google)

Secular humanists have been taking legal action against Christian crosses on public property, filing lawsuits at both ends of the country.

 

In California, the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued the city of Lake Elsinore for approving a planned memorial outside a local minor league baseball stadium.

 

The memorial honoring fallen soldiers would have included images of Christian crosses and featured the words: “Freedom Is Never Free.”

 

City council members approved the war memorial in November 2012 despite objections from secular humanists.

 

“I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because of the First Amendment,” Mayor Pro Tem Hickman was quoted as saying. “Okay. It really is a shame that our society, to me, is leaning that way.”

 

So the AHA took its case to federal court, where U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled (pdf) last week that the memorial violated “both the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and the Establishment and No Preference Clauses of the California Constitution.” 

 

Wilson wrote: “The Court concludes that Lake Elsinore’s veterans’ memorial was designed without a predominantly secular purpose, and that its principal effect is to advance religion.”

 

Only days before Wilson’s ruling, the AHA filed another lawsuit, this one in Maryland, where the Bladensburg Peace Cross has stood for nearly 90 years.

 

The 40-foot-tall memorial was established to honor 49 residents of Prince George’s County who died in World War I.

 

AHA has the same problem with the Bladensburg Peace Cross that it had with the Lake Elsinore memorial. Its lawyers argue that the large cross, which sits on public property, violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting government from establishing a religion. Therefore, it should be removed or relocated, they say.

 

“It was never meant to be a religious icon,” countered Bladensburg town administrator John E. Moss, speaking to the New York Daily News. “The cross memorializes our veterans.”

 

“The Peace Cross was originally—and always—intended to be a secular memorial to the veterans of World War I,” Maryland National Capital Area Park and Planning Commission spokesperson Kira Calm Lewis told Fox 5 News. “It does have plaques and inscriptions on it that serve that purpose, but there is no religious language on the cross whatsoever.”

 

However, the memorial’s plaque bearing the veterans’ names aren’t visible to passersby, due to lack of physical access to it and the fact that it is covered by shrubs. So all that can be seen, from near and far, is the giant cross.

 

One of the plaintiffs, Steve Lowe, “believes that the Bladensburg Cross associates a Christian religious symbol with the state and gives the impression that the state supports and approves of Christianity, as opposed to other religions, and that the state may even prefer Christians and Christianity over other religions,” the AHA complaint says. “As a non-Christian, Mr. Lowe is personally offended and feels excluded by this governmental message.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman

 

To Learn More:

Federal Judge Rules Lake Elsinore’s Ballpark War Memorial with Crosses Is Unconstitutional (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

Humanists Suing to Tear Down Cross-Shaped World War I Memorial (by Carol Kuruvilla, New York Daily News)

Humanists Sue to Move Peace Cross (by John Henrehan, Fox 5 News)

U.S. Judge Reluctantly Says Mount Soledad Cross Must Come Down, but 24-Year-Old Case Isn’t Over (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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