Denver: Highway-Memorials Ruled Unconstitutional
The Deseret News has an article on an interesting case this week: An Atheist group in Denver filed a lawsuit to remove memorial-crosses from the highway, and they won.
DENVER — The white, roadside crosses that currently memorialize the deaths of 14 Utah Highway Patrol troopers are unconstitutional, government endorsements of religion on public lands, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
“We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion,” the court wrote in siding with the Texas-based American Atheists, Inc.
In 2005, the atheist group sued the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private entity aimed at supporting troopers and their families, to get the crosses taken off state lands.
On Wednesday, 10th Circuit judges David M. Ebel, Harris L. Hartz and Deanell Reece Tacha ruled the white crosses violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
“The cross is such a poignant religious symbol that calling it a memorial and putting the troopers’ names on it doesn’t change the significant poignant nature of the cross,” said Brian Barnard, an attorney for American Atheists. “And when you put it on government property, it becomes government endorsement.”
I’m unsure what to make of this. On one hand it’s nice to see that the government actually gets its fingers slapped when putting up huge crosses on the roadside using taxpayer’s money. On the other hand they are just memorials, not churches. The cross has been around as a commonly accepted symbol for death for so long that in the western world it does have a cultural significance and is not just an exclusively religious symbol. Something in me keeps thinking that this is taking the issue a bit far, and dragging the whole matter into the realm of the ridiculous.
I just cannot believe that these crosses would really bother anyone – they are put up by grieving families to honour the memory of the dead. It’s not like these were some of those billboards telling non-believers that they’re un-American, or immoral, or commanding them to leave the country. Taking down these crosses seems so vain, as if the sole purpose in doing this is annoying christians.
It is stuff like this that makes me understand those who are annoyed with us “militant” atheists. A lawsuit is a huge amount of effort to go through just to prove so small a point – It is an investment of time and money that could have been spent on something more worthwhile, like filing lawsuits against creationist teachers, or teachers denying their pupils proper sex-ed in favour of “abstinence-only” nonsense. You know, serious stuff.