Atheists Ask Federal Court to Ban Highway Memorial Crosses

Denver, CO – An atheist group is asking a federal appeals court this week to prohibit the use of memorial crosses along Utah highways to mark sites where state troopers have been killed in the line of duty. The crosses are privately funded, but the atheists claim the Utah Highway Patrol insignia illegally mixes church and state.

Oral arguments in the case will be presented on Monday to the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which has jurisdiction over Utah and several other western states. Pacific Justice Institute filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association. The states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico are also urging the court not to prohibit crosses as appropriate memorials for officers who give their lives to protect their fellow citizens.

PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, who authored PJI’s amicus brief in the case, commented, “Across the Western world, from the hillsides of France to the hallowed grounds of Arlington, crosses have been used for many years to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is altogether fitting and proper for privately-funded memorials in Utah to include crosses in tribute to fallen officers.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, noted, “It is unfortunate that not even tributes to fallen highway patrol officers are safe from atheist lawsuits. No one is forcing anyone else to be religious here; these crosses are simply an easily-recognized method of conveying respect to heroes who have clearly earned it.”

In the lower court opinion being appealed, the federal district judge cited to the ongoing Mt. Soledad cross case in San Diego as an example of a cross being used to memorialize fallen heroes, not to proselytize. PJI remains involved in the Mt. Soledad case. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it would review another case involving a war memorial cross in the Mojave Desert, which the Ninth Circuit declared unconstitutional.