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Roadside crosses for fallen Utah police unconstitutional, court rules

The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that 12-foot-high crosses honoring fallen members of the Utah Highway Patrol effectively endorse Christianity – and violate the separation of church and state – by going beyond the 'more humble spirit of small roadside crosses.'

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A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that roadside crosses erected to memorialize fallen Utah Highway Patrol officers violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of government endorsement of religion.

The Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals said that the 12-foot-high crosses bearing the name and badge number of deceased officers sent an unconstitutional religious message to motorists on the state’s highways.

“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. They therefore violate the establishment clause of the federal constitution,” the appeals court said in a 35-page decision.

Proponents of strict separation between church and state immediately praised the decision.

“This is an important victory,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. “Governmental endorsement of Christianity, even in the form of an officer’s memorial, isn’t appropriate on our public highways.”

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