Two of the nation's most prominent freethinking organizations are asking a Michigan town to remove a cross from its veterans memorial in a public park.
An Alto, Mich., resident contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Center for Inquiry to inform them about a cross memorial monument at the Alto Veterans Park in Bowne Township, near Grand Rapids. The display is a black cutout of a soldier kneeling and a Christian cross.
FFRF and CFI have no objection to veterans' memorials, and indeed think that the service and sacrifice of members of the armed forces should be honored, but note that the cross in a city-owned park sends an unconstitutional message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion.
"A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion," FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and Center for Inquiry Vice President and General Counsel Nicholas Little write in a letter to Sandy Graham, chair of the Alto Downtown Development Authority. "No court of final resort has ever upheld the government's permanent display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional. The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable."
In addition, the Alto memorial excludes the approximately one-fourth of military personnel who identify as atheist or agnostic or have no religious preference. Their service and sacrifice deserves memorialization as equally as other servicemen and women.
"Nonbelieving veterans should not be relegated to a second-class status," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "They deserve the same place in the spotlight as Christian servicemembers. There are indeed many atheists in foxholes, contrary to the myth, who serve our country with valor and distinction."
Little of CFI concurs.
"Explicitly Christian memorials are not only contrary to the law, they also dismiss the contributions of countless American military personnel who hold no religious beliefs, as well as those who hold minority faiths," he says. "The focus of any memorial should be to honor the sacrifice made by all who served, not to make a religious point."
The two organizations ask that the city of Alto immediately remove the cross memorial from its Veterans Park.
A 14-foot granite cross in a public park in Santa Clara, Calif., was removed earlier this month due to an FFRF court case.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with more than 26,000 nonreligious members nationally and chapters all over the country, including more than 600 and a chapter in Michigan. The organization is writing about the matter 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.
The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.