Atheist group sues California city over ‘divisively religious’ memorial
An organization that promotes secularism has sued a city in California in hopes of blocking the construction of a religiously-themed veterans memorial.
In their lawsuit, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center said the memorial violated the separation of church and state. Lake Elsinore’s polished black granite memorial depicts a soldier kneeling in prayer before a Christian cross.
“The city has clearly violated the First Amendment by unnecessarily choosing a divisively religious means of honoring our veterans,” said William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “In addition, the California constitution prohibits any governmental funding whatsoever for religious purposes, including religious monuments.”
Proponents of the memorial have said it is a historically accurate depiction of a World War II-era soldier honoring a fallen colleague. In their lawsuit, however, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center noted several city officials supported the memorial specifically because of its Christian symbolism.
One Lake Elsinore councilwoman said opposition to the cross was a “sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something we are forced to hide in society specifically with reverence to our veterans, the very people who have fought to protect our religious freedom,” according to the lawsuit.
The city attorney also allegedly warned the memorial raised First Amendment concerns because it was a publicly funded religious symbol.
The Lake Elsinore City Council unanimously approved the memorial last year.
[Image courtesy of the American Humanist Association]