Thursday, August 19, 2010

10th Circuit Says Utah Highway Patrol Cross Memorials Violate Establishment Clause

In American Atheists, Inc. v. Duncan, (10th Cir., Aug. 18, 2010), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Utah Highway Patrol Association violated the Establishment Clause when it put up on public land some 13 crosses, each 12 feet high, as memorials to Utah Highway Patrol members who were killed in the line of duty. The court concluded that the Christian crosses,as permanent displays on government land, were government speech, even though the UHPA, a private group, retained ownership of the memorials. The court went on to find that the memorials violated the Lemon test because "the cross memorials would convey to a reasonable observer that the state of Utah is endorsing Christianity."  The court said:
We agree that a reasonable observer would recognize these memorial crosses as symbols of death. However, we do not agree that this nullifies their religious sectarian content because a memorial cross is not a generic symbol of death; it is a Christian symbol of death that signifies or memorializes the death of a Christian....
The court also was unpersuaded by the argument that a reasonable observer would not see the crosses as an endorsement of Christianity because a majority of Utahans are Mormons and do not revere the cross as a symbol of their faith. (See prior related posting.) Yesterday's Christian Science Monitor reported on the decision.