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Honoring fallen troopers or endorsing religion? Highway crosses in Utah

Crosses are once again in the courts as the state of Utah fights for its right to memorialize fallen state troopers through white crosses on highways.

In August 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 14 white crosses violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of a religion. But it has since placed a stay on the order, which would remove the crosses, paving the way for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A group called American Atheists Inc. sued the state of Utah in 2005, saying the crosses should be taken off state land. Its attorney, Brian Barnard, told the Deseret News: “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. And when you put it on government property, it becomes government endorsement.”

American Athiests, Inc. say that the state of Utah violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – by placing the crosses along the highway.It was included in the Bill of Rights so the government would not be able to establish a national religion. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase "separation of church and state" when writing about the First Amendment.
But Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff disagrees, saying that crosses take on a different, nonreligious meaning in this context.

“People know when they see a white cross on the side of the road, they know somebody died there,” he said. “The poor atheist who sees that knows it. He’s not forced to think about Christ or Christianity or to change his religion.”

This argument comes up often; in 2009, the Supreme Court heard arguments over the constitutionality of a cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert, on a federal preserve. This cross was meant to memorialize veterans of World War I, but a caretaker sued, saying it violated the establishment clause. The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court in late April 2010; Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement of religion does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.” Two weeks later, the cross was stolen.

In Utah, American Atheists Inc. is not looking to remove the memorials to the fallen state troopers. It  wants them honored, Barnard told the Deseret News, but the group wants the state to find a secular way to do it. “The memorials … should be such that they don’t emphasize…one religion to the exclusion of others,” he said.

What do you think?

Do highway crosses honor fallen state troopers or endorse religion? Does the cross take on a nonreligious meaning in this context, indicating that someone died but not advocating one faith over  others? Or does a cross’s religious meaning override any other context? If you were an atheist, would you find these crosses offensive? What if you were an atheist and a relative of a fallen trooper? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Comments
10/16/2012
Ledyard CT
Conner
Mr. Gallante Ledyard High School
I Believe that these highway memorials are perfectly acceptable. However, I can understand that atheists could get upset, due to their beliefs. I am a military dependent of the Navy, and I profoundly believe in honoring fallen troopers or those i nthe military, however our nation is founded on equality, which includes respect to all religions. The Atheist group's suggestion of making them less secular, is fair.

9/7/2012
Sidney Montana
Lane
Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
Highway crosses are not in anyway wrong. The fact that this is even an issue is just a sign that people are losing their way about what this country is all about. When we first colonized America it was hard people took care of each other and if a person defending the constitution our families loses his life doing so then there should be a visual marker showing that he died fighting for YOU AND HIS COUNTRY! The fact that it is a cross is a sign that some people are not losing their way. That they remember that we forged this nation under God. It says it in our own Pledge of Allegiance. One nation under God. I thank those in our Military and law enforcement keeping this country free and i am proud to say keep the crosses that honor fallen troopers.

1/4/2012
Montgomery, TX
Alex Williams
Metzger/Montgomery High
I don't think that the white crosses are wrong at all. They are simply put there to honor fallen troopers and show sympathy to the troopers families and friends. The fact that someone would even bring politics into this delicate situation saddens me. These troopers fought for their country and deserve to be recognized to the world, just like any other trooper, veteran, or soldier in the country. Having a traditional symbol of memorial for a fallen trooper is not violating the rights of a small group of people that might glance up and see the crosses but are unable to read the inscription on them when passing by going the legal speed limit.

10/7/2011
Sidney MT
Wade
Mr. Faulbhorer
I think that the government has every right to put crosses next to the road or in a memorial spot to remember victoms of fatal crashes or to remember fallen soldiers. The cross overall symbolizes religion, but more importantly it is a memorial to someone that has passed away. There is no need in my eyes for this to be an issue even, it is an act of honor that shouldnt be disgraced.

10/7/2011
Sidney MT
Wade
Mr. Faulbhorer
I think that the government has every right to put crosses next to the road or in a memorial spot to remember victoms of fatal crashes or to remember fallen soldiers. The cross overall symbolizes religion, but more importantly it is a memorial to someone that has passed away. There is no need in my eyes for this to be an issue even, it is an act of honor that shouldnt be disgraced.

10/7/2011
Sidney, MT
Sarah
Miss Fontana
Using a white cross means so much more than just expressing religion. If it is on the side of the road, it means someone died there and they are being remembered. They also mark the spot for families to know where it happened so they can go there and mourn. It doesn't have to do with enforcing our religion on anyone.

3/25/2011
Indianapolis/Indiana
Summer
Singleton/Ben Davis
Its not about religion its about the fallen soliders and the American Atheists clearly have no respect for the men and women who fought for this country. Its pretty ignorant if you ask me because white crosses don't indorse or only represent religion. For example, swastikas were first used in indian religions and stood for good luck. Then the Nazi party adopted the symbol giving the swastika a negative connotation. The same thing can be applied in this situation. White crosses can have two meanings and it all depends on how you as a person take it.

1/14/2011

Andi
Sidney High School, Sidney, MT
Using a white cross to signify the death of a trooper does not endorse religion. It only points out that a soldier has died and is being honored for the fight for freedom. They should not be angry. I believe that they only want for the soldiers to be honored and are using the nations major religion to symolize this.

1/14/2011

Andi
Sidney High School, Sidney, MT
Using a white cross to signify the death of a trooper does not endorse religion. It only points out that a soldier has died and is being honored for the fight for freedom. They should not be angry. I believe that they only want for the soldiers to be honored and are using the nations major religion to symolize this.

1/10/2011

Sabrina Fox
Metzger @ Montgomery High, Montgomery, TX
For the fact the crosses on the highway are on government property for anybody to see, is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The preference of a specific religion over another by the government of our country is the meaning of this violation, which the crosses could and will very well be taken as that. Although, the crosses might not be intended to force the Christian religion upon anybody, there are other ways to remember these lost troops. I am a Christian, but I would not like seeing another religion being symbolized when the purpose is to remember the ones lost. I do believe the crosses should be taken down and another memorial honoring these troops would be more appropriate.

1/10/2011

Sabrina Fox
Metzger @ Montgomery High, Montgomery, TX
For the fact the crosses on the highway are on government property for anybody to see, is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The preference of a specific religion over another by the government of our country is the meaning of this violation, which the crosses could and will very well be taken as that. Although, the crosses might not be intended to force the Christian religion upon anybody, there are other ways to remember these lost troops. I am a Christian, but I would not like seeing another religion being symbolized when the purpose is to remember the ones lost. I do believe the crosses should be taken down and another memorial honoring these troops would be more appropriate.

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