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U.S. Supreme Court’s cross ruling provides strong support for Utah roadside crosses

High court mentions roadside memorials as part of Mojave Cross ruling after ADF-allied attorney representing Utah Highway Patrol Association filed brief in case

WASHINGTON — The Utah Highway Patrol Association’s defense of roadside memorial crosses honoring fallen police officers may benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday that allows a veterans’ memorial cross to stand in California’s Mojave Desert.

In its decision, the court directly mentioned the validity of roadside crosses to honor troopers, apparently as a result of a brief filed in the Mojave case by attorneys working with the Alliance Defense Fund who represent the UHPA in a separate case. In that case, the group American Atheists, Inc., is seeking to tear down Utah’s roadside memorials to fallen state troopers.

“One person’s agenda shouldn’t diminish the sacrifice made by Utah highway patrol officers and their families. The families of the fallen should be allowed to honor their loved ones as they wish,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione, who argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in March 2009. “The mention of the validity of roadside crosses by the Supreme Court in the Mojave decision is certainly an encouraging sign for our case, which we won in district court and is now on appeal. Individualized memorial crosses honoring fallen troopers simply do not amount to a government establishment of religion.”

The opinion issued Wednesday in Salazar v. Buono states, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm. 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 reference may be the result of a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case on behalf of UHPA and Robert E. Mackey by Michael A. Sink, of Perkins Coie, LLP, and Frank D. Mylar, Jr.--one of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance. That brief explained, “UHPA conceived and constructed memorial crosses along Utah roadways at or near the location where thirteen highway patrol officers were mortally injured in the line of duty.  No governmental or religious entities were involved in the process.  The crosses were erected with the permission of each patrol officer’s family and the State of Utah.  American Atheists, Inc. and several individual members of that organization brought suit....  The proper resolution of this [Mojave] case is of great concern to UHPA because if successful, Appellants’ efforts could call into question the existence of the highway patrol officers’ memorial crosses and other similar memorials around the country located on state and federal land.”

The National Legal Foundation also represents the UHPA in the lawsuit American Atheists v. Davenport, currently awaiting an opinion from the 10th Circuit. 

  • Photo of one of the Utah roadside memorials
  • Pronunciation guide: Mojave (Mow-ha-vee); Babione (Babby-own) ; Buono (Bwo-no); Coie (Coo-ee)

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.