Judges rule in favor of atheist group; Utah highway crosses for fallen troopers unconstitutional

by | Aug. 19, 2010

News from Utah

The white, roadside crosses that currently memorialize the deaths of 14 Utah Highway Patrol troopers are unconstitutional, government endorsements of religion on public lands, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

"We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion," the court wrote in siding with the Texas-based American Atheists, Inc.

In 2005, the atheist group sued the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private entity aimed at supporting troopers and their families, to get the crosses taken off state lands.

On Wednesday, 10th Circuit judges David M. Ebel, Harris L. Hartz and Deanell Reece Tacha ruled the white crosses violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

"The cross is such a poignant religious symbol that calling it a memorial and putting the troopers' names on it doesn't change the significant poignant nature of the cross," said Brian Barnard, an attorney for American Atheists. "And when you put it on government property, it becomes government endorsement."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, however, told the Deseret News he "couldn't disagree more."

"It is the judicial responsibility to interpret, but I'm just glad it's not the final say," he said.

Read the rest of this story at deseretnews.com
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