Sunday, November 20, 2011

State Trooper Memorial Crosses Un-religion-ized?



On October 31 the US Supreme Court determined that a series of memorials in the shape of crosses designed to memorialize Utah Highway Patrol who died in the line of duty were a violation of the establishment clause. Justice Thomas wrote a lengthy dissent stating that this would have been an ideal way to further define the boundaries of the establishment clause.
Several weeks later now, this article explains that the state has redesigned the crosses to be allowed to be placed along the roadside. Changes include stripping the Highway Patrol logo off the 12 foot tall crosses, but still bear the name each one was built to memorialize. The opinion of the association that erected the crosses is that it is not a memorial unless it is a cross, and will do everything in their power to maintain as much of the original design as possible.
The American Atheists Inc. believe that the cross remains a strictly religious symbol and has no place in memorials for fallen officers who are of various religious faiths. The Atheist association asserts they have no qualms with the idea of memorials for the officers and suggest secular alternatives such as an obelisk.
In response to the Atheist organization, the Highway Patrol Association says that they will add a small disclaimer to each cross stating it is not meant to be a religious endorsement or represent any one religion over any others. The association representative asserts that the sign would be large enough to be read by passing motorists.
In my opinion there is no reason to use the cross except to directly incorporate God. I think the Atheist incorporation has a perfectly justified claim that the crosses are still an establishment, and the use of an obelisk rather than the cross should be completely satisfactory for all parties involved. This clearly promotes Christianity and the Catholic faith over less mainstream religions or no religion. I do not expect that this compromise will be accepted and I wager that the entire design will have to be changed, as suggested the first time this went to the supreme court.
Do you think this is an establishment of religion? Is memorializing fallen officers an acceptable use of the cross by the state? If not, do you think there are any acceptable uses of the cross by the state?

10 comments:

Grant Z said...

I don't think this is an establishment of religion so long as the fallen officers' families sign off on the cross being used to memorialize their family member. If the family wishes to use a different emblem in the memorial, then the Highway Patrol ought to use that emblem instead for that particular officer. While this is a case of state funds being used to purchase religious emblems (so long as the family selects a religious emblem), I think memorializing police officers is a cause worthy of some entanglement between the state and religion.

Harry R. said...

I feel that the meaning claimed to be attached to the crosses is not as important as what is seen by passing motorists. If a sign were erected stating that the crosses are not religious endorsement but rather represent fallen troopers, I believe that that would make the symbols constitutional. However, I feel that the sign must be large enough to be read by passing motorists, for if it is not, the reasonable observer would still see large crosses by the highway and may infer state endorsement of religion.

Christopher J. said...

Continuing our debate from last week's blog post on this issue, I continue to disagree with Harry's definition of what the "reasonable observer" is. I obviously have a higher opinion of the average American's intelligence than Harry, for I think that most people would have the reasoning skills to be able to infer that crosses inscribed with names constitute memorials to those who have died, and not some attempt by the state of Utah to promote the practice of Christianity among the citizenry.

Also Harry, I have to question the effectiveness of placing a disclaimer on the crosses. You already argued that "someone driving along the road at fifty miles an hour" would be unable to realize that the crosses are memorials. If a driver would not be able to read the names on the crosses and deduce that they are memorials, how are they going to be ale to read an entire disclaimer? In order for such a sign to be readable, it would have to be sizeable enough for it to be seen at quite a distance, and would in turn cover up a sizeable portion of the memorial, rendering it pointless.

Molly Veelguski said...

I do not think that this is an establishment of religion. Even though the state purchased the religious emblems, they are not being used to advance or inhibit any other religion. These crosses are simply being used to memorialize fallen officers. I believe this gives the government reason to allow for these crosses. The state officer affiliation has been removed and disclaimers will be available to ensure that travelers are aware of the memorial's purpose. Also, I feel that memorials are common along major highways throughout the US for people who have tragically fallen victim to car accidents. People are understanding to those situations and would not automatically assume that the state is endorsing a certain religion.

Jean A said...

While I do not feel this is a direct violation of the establishment clause, I do believe that the Atheist's point of view is correct in wanting to use a more secular object to avoid conflict. By using an obelisk, the the need for a large sign stating that the cross is not meant for religious purposes is not necessary. I believe that the need to have this sign takes away from the sentimental value of the display for the state troopers. Using a more secular object will not take away from the overall message and will keep the state out of constitutional trouble.

Sophie K said...

I sympathize with the atheists who may feel uncomfortable because of the crosses, but I do not think this case constitutes an establishment of religion. Although the state purchased the religious emblems, the crosses are purely being used to memorialize officers (secular purpose), not promote Christianity to random people driving on the highway.

Allison S said...

Although I recognize the Atheist's point of view I do not believe this is an establishment of religion. The purpose of these crosses along the highway is entirely secular. It is meant to memorialize those who have lost their lives, not promote religious beliefs onto others. And furthermore, in 2006 the state of Utah passed a joint resolution that declared the cross to be a secular symbol of death. Even though some observers may view this as imposing religious beliefs, if they get close enough and see the inscribed names they will understand that it is a memorial.

Elena T said...

I do not believe this is an establishment of religion. If the crosses represent the faith of those who died then I feel it is justified. However, if one of them was a different religion than I feel that would be unconstitutional to not have that officer represented as well.

Sam S said...

I also believe that this would be an establishment of religion. A cross is one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, symbols of Christianity. Therefore, keeping the cross as a memorial for the fallen officers would be the state endorsement of religion. I do think that there could be a better memorial built to honor those officers that passed away.

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