Memorial crosses honoring fallen
state trooper will be permanently removed from Utah highways as a result of
a perplexing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court refused to
hear an appeal of a lower
ruling ordering the removal of the crosses honoring Utah highway patrolmen
killed in the line of duty.
Beginning in 1998, the Utah Highway
Patrol Association has erected the nondescript white crosses which include
the name and badge number of the fallen officer, the date of their death,
and the logo of the Utah Highway Patrol. Thirteen such crosses have been
placed along Utah roadways paid for by the Highway Patrol Association on
behalf of the families of deceased officers.
The Tenth U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the crosses were an
religion, "conveying to a reasonable observer that the State of Utah is
endorsing Christianity." The lawsuit had been filed by the American
Atheists organization, which claimed that the crosses were "divisive
The Supreme Court's decision to let the Tenth
Circuit ruling stand has once again confounded religious liberty observers.
Just last year the High Court ruled in favor of a cross-shaped memorial in
the Mojave Desert. In that decision, the justices made specific reference
to roadside crosses honoring deceased law enforcement officers.
that case, the court said: "The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement
does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.
A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place
where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of
government support for religious beliefs. The Constitution does not oblige
government to avoid any public acknowledgement of religion's role in
Justice Clarence Thomas was the only Supreme Court
Justice to vote to hear the case. He blasted his colleagues in a 19-page
dissent. "Today the Court rejects an opportunity to provide clarity to an
Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles...Our jurisprudence has
confounded the lower courts and
the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government
property anyone's guess..."
Justice Thomas added: "Our
Establishment Clause precedents remain impenetrable, and the lower courts'
decisions...remain incapable of coherent explanation...One might be forgiven
for failing to discern a workable principle that explains these wildly
divergent outcomes...We should not abdicate our responsibility to clean up
our mess because these disputes [are of our own making.]"
noted that the cross is "used both generally in cemeteries to commemorate
the dead and by uniformed services to memorialize those who died in the line
of duty." Thomas said it was reasonable for the Highway Patrol Association
to conclude that "the cross effectively and simultaneously conveyed the
death, honor, remembrance, gratitude, sacrifice, and safety that they wished
to communicate to the public"
Byron Babione, senior counsel for
the Alliance Defense Fund, bemoaned the court's baffling decision.
"Thirteen heroic men fell, leaving their survivors to mourn and memorialize
their loved ones, and now those widows, children, parents, colleagues, and
many more must suffer through losing the very memorials that honored those
"One atheist group's agenda shouldn't diminish the
sacrifice made by highway patrol officers and their families," Babione
added. "Justice is not well served when unhappy atheists can use the law to
crosses and renew the suffering for the survivors."Tony
, President of the Family Research Council, says the latest
ruling is yet another assault on the religious liberties guaranteed in the
Constitution. "I find it tragic that our freedoms are now at greater risk
from our own courts than from the foreign and domestic enemies we have
faced...If this decision is ever applied nationally, no crosses on public
property will be tolerated. Arlington National Cemetery and other notable
landmarks would have to be completely dismantled."
affects all the states included in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals'
jurisdiction. Those states, in addition to Utah, are Colorado, Kansas, New
Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. The only guidance
can draw from the Supreme Court's incomprehensible rulings is that the
crosses are permitted in the states included in all the other judicial
The Utah Highway Patrol Association is not going down
without a fight. They have left the crosses standing for the moment, but
have removed the logo of the State Highway Patrol. They hope federal courts
will then no longer view the crosses as constituting "government" displays.
"We feel strongly that without the cross there is no memorial," says
association attorney Frank Mylar.
The Family Research Council is
leading a petition drive calling on the federal courts and Congress to
support cross memorials as consistent with the free exercise of religion
assured in the Bill of Rights. Over 40,000 Americans have signed the
petition so far. You can join them by clicking this link: