Sunday, April 10, 2016

Welcome Home Soldiers Monument

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State is an organization in Washington, D.C. that has a problem with Monroe County’s Welcome Home Soldier monument because the monument consists of many Latin crosses. The organization sent a letter ordering the county and city to “divorce itself from any connection to the privately organized and funded veteran’s park and pay back any money given in support of the monument.”
The Monroe County loaned the eight acres to a “private entity” for the memorial site under “a 28E agreement,” which states that the private entity must keep the park open to the public. Albia City approved to have 45 percent of money received from a hotel/motel tax directed toward the park, which has amounted to $11,413. Lastly, the county plans to continue using taxpayer money to maintain and improve the park.
            There are two issues need to be discussed. Is it an unconstitutional establishment of religion for the Monroe County to loan land to “private entity” that decides to display religious symbols? Does allocating 45 percent of the money received from the hotel-motel tax for maintaining and improving the park violate the Establishment Clause?
            Having the crosses the in the memorial is not a form government establishment of religion. The private party that received the government land followed the necessary protocol to get the land and had the right to the land as long as people can visit the park. In Mueller v. Allen (1983), a Minnesota law provided deductions for tuition, books, and transportation for schools that satisfied the state compulsory attendance laws, and religious schools that satisfied those laws received the funding. The Supreme Court supported this stating there was no “imprimatur of state approval,” meaning the purpose of the law was to help underfinanced schools, and religious schools should receive the benefits if they fit the criteria. In the case of Monroe County, the private group qualified to borrow the land from the government as long as they follow the protocol of having the park open to the public. How the organization chooses to design the park is not representative of the government, so the government is not endorsing Christianity if crosses are displayed.
            The government is not violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because this is a neutral policy. Any “private entity” that is able to satisfy the 28E agreement could have been able to receive the land, regardless if it was a secular or religious group. Another component to consider is that there is no coercive nature to the monument: if the crosses offend people, they can simply ignore it or go to another part of the park.
            The second issue of using 45 percent of the money from the hotel/motel tax for maintaining and improving the land is not an issue regarding the Establishment Clause. The county’s opinion on the policy should not alter if the private group has secular or religious displays. The government’s purpose of maintaining and improving the land is to have quality land, not to improve the religious displays. Indirect aid to religion should not be viewed as a violation of the Establishment clause, which is supported in Employment Division v. Smith (1990) where it states that, “a law is neutral and of general applicability need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if the law has the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice.” If a law that is “neutral and of general applicability” accidentally burdens religion, then by the same logic a law that is “neutral and of general applicability” can also “incidentally” benefit religion. If the county’s policy is to maintain public land that is loaned to a private company, then they must maintain the land of the park because it would be unfair to not fund the private group solely because of the religious symbols.

            This is a controversial issue because Monroe County loaned land to a private organization that displayed religious symbols on a monument dedicated to veterans. The county allowed private groups to acquire the land if they follow agreement 28E. The private entity that received the land qualified to acquire the land, and the way the land is used is not indicative of government endorsement of religion. This highlights that this a neutral policy towards religious and secular groups because both groups had the right to the land if they fit the necessary criteria. This raises the question if the county should finance the maintenance of the land or if the private group should finance it themselves. The policy itself should be neutral; the government should not treat the private group differently if the land has religious or secular symbols on it. If their policy is to finance the maintenance of the land, it is not a government endorsement of religion because indirect aid to religion should not be viewed as endorsement.

1 comment:

Matthew L. said...

Although I understand why this issue has been raised, I believe that the points you make clearly demonstrate why this should not be one. The policy through which the group obtained the land, a 28E agreement, was neutral in purpose, and allowing all groups of citizens to take advantage of it. By making the agreement null due to the sole reason of religious association would clearly be hostility towards religion. Furthermore, I believe it is also important to highlight the fact that this park serves a secular purpose of honoring the soldiers, and the cross is used as a method to honor the soldiers and their selected faith.