The Freedom From Religion Foundation is troubled about a Minnesota city backtracking on its removal of a cross from a public veterans park.
In Veterans Memorial Park in the city of Belle Plaine, there was a display — very recently added and without official approval — of a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross next to the city’s own Veterans Memorial Stone. In response to a letter from FFRF’s Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, the cross had been taken down a few weeks ago. Now it seems that the city may be on track to permitting the cross to be put back up. The Belle Plaine City Council seemingly caved in to immense local religious pressure.
“A controversial veterans memorial in Belle Plaine, Minn., will be restored to its original form, after a narrow vote by the city council Monday night,” a local TV station reports. “On Monday, the city council voted 3-2 to establish a ‘limited public forum’ in the Veterans Park, which supporters believe would allow the cross to stay.”
FFRF is very concerned by this turn of events. It finds the new policy to be subterfuge to keep the cross at a government veterans memorial. The purpose behind the newly proposed limited public forum is religiously motivated — to keep a Christian cross on government property — and thus calls into question the constitutionality of the policy.
If the proposal goes forward, FFRF will also consider proposing a memorial of its own: to atheists in foxholes. FFRF displays two such monuments — one at its offices in Madison, Wis., the other on campgrounds in Alabama. The full text of its proposed display in Belle Plaine reads: “In honor of atheists in foxholes and the countless freethinkers who have served this country with honor and distinction. With hope that in the future humankind may learn to avoid all war.”
FFRF had objected to the cross on city land due to a number of reasons — all of which remain valid.
The cross showed an endorsement of religion over nonreligion. Additionally, FFRF asserted, the memorial sent a message that the government cares only about the death of Christian soldiers and was disdainful of the sacrifices made by non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers, since it excluded the one-third of the population that identifies as such. Putting the cross back up will again be an official violation of the First Amendment.
“There are ample tax-free church grounds to display Christian crosses,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Such sectarian symbols do not belong on public land.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It represents more than 26,000 nonreligious members across the country, including almost 600 in Minnesota. The organization is working on this issue both as a state/church watchdog group and on behalf of its more than 6,000 members who are in the military or are veterans.