Cross to bear: Atheist organization bothered by roadside memorials files suit; ADF responds
SALT LAKE CITY - An atheist group's bid to ban memorial crosses from public land is being challenged by ADF attorneys who filed a motion to intervene Friday in the group's lawsuit against Utah officials. ADF is representing the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private organization which fully funds and maintains the memorials.
"It's morally disgraceful for a small group of activists to try to stop the families of state troopers who were killed in the line of duty from honoring their lost loved ones," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione. "To say that crosses cannot be used to memorialize a public servant is constitutionally inaccurate. The crosses signify the service and death of a person, and the UHP beehive logo on them identifies the person as a state trooper. The memorials are not intended as a religious statement."
The group American Atheists filed a lawsuit against the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Transportation Department seeking a court order to force the removal of 14 steel crosses. The group is also contesting the inclusion of the UHP's beehive logo, placed in the center of each cross, claiming that it too is an endorsement of religion. Scattered throughout the state, each memorial is placed on or near the place where an officer lost his or her life.
"The symbol of the cross is the most commonly recognized symbol to mark a person's death," said ADF-allied attorney Frank Mylar, who filed the motion to intervene on behalf of the victims' family members and others who are a part of the Utah Highway Patrol Association. "To say that crosses cannot be displayed on public land to memorialize fallen officers is a slap in the face of the families whose loved ones paid the ultimate price to keep Utah highways safe."
Babione said that ADF is pleased to represent the interest of family members of fallen officers who wish to keep the memorials in place: "Nothing at all about the roadside memorial crosses is unconstitutional. Being personally offended by a cross has never been a sufficient reason to uproot a memorial to someone's death. It's ludicrous to use the tiresome extraconstitutional construct of 'separation of church and state' to attack these memorials."
The Utah Highway Patrol Association is also represented by the National Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm dedicated to the protection of First Amendment freedoms.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.