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Indignity: Fallen Utah troopers struck down twice

U.S. Supreme Court allows ruling against memorial trooper crosses to stand

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review a case concerning the constitutionality of roadside memorial crosses honoring fallen Utah state troopers. A federal district court upheld the constitutionality of the crosses in 2007, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit later struck them down. The high court decided to let the decision stand.

“One atheist group’s agenda shouldn’t diminish the sacrifice made by highway patrol officers and their families,” said ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione. “Thirteen heroic men fell, leaving their survivors to mourn and memorialize their loved ones, and now those widows, children, parents, colleagues, and many more must suffer through losing the very memorials that honored those heroes. Justice is not well served when unhappy atheists can use the law to mow down memorial crosses and renew the suffering for the survivors. But ADF will continue to fight for the right of families to memorialize their heroes in the way they see fit. In the end, justice must prevail.”

Justice Clarence Thomas issued a dissent that argued the court should have taken the case: “Today the Court rejects an opportunity to provide clarity to an Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles…,” he wrote. “The Tenth Circuit’s opinion is one of the latest in a long line of ‘religious display’ decisions that, because of this Court’s nebulous Establishment Clause analyses, turn on little more than ‘judicial predilections….’ Because our jurisprudence has confounded the lower courts and rendered the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government property anyone’s guess, I would grant certiorari.

In April, ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to review the case, Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists. In April 2010, the Supreme Court specifically addressed the subject of roadside crosses honoring fallen state troopers as part of its Salazar v. Buono decision, which concluded that a cross-shaped veterans’ memorial in California’s Mojave Desert did not have to be removed.

“The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” the high court wrote. “A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs. The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear this case is baffling in light of its comments just last year that individualized memorial crosses honoring fallen troopers do not amount to a government establishment of religion,” Babione noted.

American Atheists sued officials of the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Transportation Department in 2005. The group claimed that the roadside memorials are a state establishment of religion even though the memorials are funded, owned, and maintained by a private organization, the Utah Highway Patrol Association. The UHPA, which supports highway patrol officers and their families, was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the memorial crosses in 2006. ADF attorneys--along with Frank D. Mylar, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, and the National Legal Foundation--represented the UHPA in this case.

  • Pronunciation guide: Babione (BABB’-ee-own); Buono (BWO’-no); Mojave (Mow-HA’-vee)

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.


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