BELLE PLAINE, Minn. — Veterans in a Minnesota city have removed a cross from a memorial erected in a public park after a prominent professing atheist group deemed the inclusion of the symbol as being an unlawful government endorsement of religion.
According to reports, the Belle Plaine Veterans Club had recently placed the display in Veterans Park next to an inscribed stone honoring local residents who had lost their lives in various wars, from the Indian War of 1862 to the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The silhouette showed a soldier kneeling before a grave marker in the shape of a cross, such as are seen in some military cemeteries.
But the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) contended that the inclusion of the cross in the display promoted Christianity and failed to represent other religions or those who reject religion. It asked that the symbol be removed since its placement on city property could be construed as government endorsement.
“FFRF has no objection to veterans’ memorials. Our objection is to the message of endorsement of religion over non-religion,” the group wrote in a letter to City Attorney Bob Vose in October. “Additionally, this memorial sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and non-religious soldiers.”
It contended that even though the purpose of the display was not meant to be religious, the cross grave marker made it so.
“No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity,” FFRF asserted. “The display of this patently religious symbol in a city park confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause.”
City council met over the matter earlier this month, and members of the Belle Plaine Veterans Club reluctantly agreed to cut the cross off the display at the recommendation of Vose.
“It was probably one of the hardest things that I had to do in a long time … to come up and cut this thing off of there,” local veteran Joe Burmeister told local television station KARE.
He said that a number of residents are upset that the symbol had to be removed, and reports outline that some plan on bringing crosses to the site to lay next to the display. Some will also erect crosses in their front yard as a statement of support.
“To me, it’s another attack on small town America—our freedoms,” Belle Plaine Mayor Christopher Meyer told the outlet.
News of the removal comes just after officials in Santa Clara, California uprooted a cross memorial in response to a lawsuit from FFRF. The cross, which had been erected 64 years ago as a memorial to an 18-century Spanish Catholic mission in the area, has now been donated to Santa Clara University.
In 1799, just 12 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Congregationalist minister and geographer Jedidiah Morse said, “In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief or the corruption of its doctrines, in the same proportion will the people of the nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.”
“Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them,” he stated.