LAKE ELSINORE, Ca. — A federal judge has blocked the installation of a veterans memorial at a public stadium in California after an atheist organization sued over its belief that the display would violate the Constitution.
Last November, the city council of Lake Elsinore unanimously approved the creation of the monument, which was to be erected in Diamond Stadium. The 5-0 vote followed a public hearing where over 100 residents attended to voice their opinion, mainly in support of the monument.
However, the 6-foot granite display was met with disapproval by atheist groups and others who asserted that one aspect of its design went too far. The monument, which declares, “In honor of our brave men and women who by their service give life to our most precious gift — freedom,” also depicts a soldier kneeling before a row of cemetery markers in the shape of a cross. A star of David is also featured on the display, as well as an American flag and a soaring eagle.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of residents Diana Hansen and John Larsen, the organization contended that the crosses on the monument clearly were representative of Christianity and therefore were inappropriate for a public memorial.
“[We are challenging] the constitutionality of the City’s design, approval, funding, construction, ownership, maintenance and prominent display of a monument … depicting a soldier kneeling before a Christian cross as a violation of the separation of church and state,” the complaint outlined.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson agreed with the atheist association and issued a temporary injunction against its installment.
“The legislative history and the comments of the city’s elected leaders leading up to approval of the [monument] would lead a reasonable observer to believe that the monument endorses Christianity and Judaism,” he wrote. “There is no indication that any council member so much as suggested that the Latin crosses and Star of David were meant to allude to World War II veterans. … At least three council members made specific statements that they wanted to keep the Latin cross as part of the monument because of its religious symbolism.”
Wilson also stated that because the monument stands alone and is not surrounded by any secular messages, members of the public would be led to believe that the display is a government endorsement of religion.
However, the Pacific Justice Institute, a Christian legal organization that has been representing the city in court, says that Wilson’s conclusion is inaccurate.
“It appears to be inconsistent with established law,” attorney Kevin Snider told PE.com. “It’s not a religious monument. It’s a veterans memorial.”
President Brad Dacus had made similar remarks prior to the decision.
“It doesn’t endorse a religion simply because it depicts a cemetary from World War II where it has crosses and stars of David shown as grave markings,” he told reporters. “This is about remembering those who died and fought for freedom and liberty…”
The Pacific Justice Institute plans to review the ruling in full before deciding what steps will be taken next to defend the display.