The Freedom From Religion Foundation is continuing to object to a massive cross in the main public plaza in a fabled New Mexican artistic community.
A large cross sculpture sits in Taos Plaza. It is intended to be a memorial to the victims of World War II's Bataan Death March and to all veterans.
FFRF originally contacted Taos officials in March of last year. It has since sent three more letters, the most recent one dispatched last month. The missives finally seem to have caught the city's attention.
"Three follow-up [FFRF] letters were sent to the town, the last of which prompted veterans and their supporters to turn out for a town council meeting March 14, where at least 10 people spoke in favor of the memorial and defended it as a bastion of Taos culture and history," reports the Taos News. "It seems public officials are ready to pick this fight if it can't be resolved through dialogue."
FFRF hopes it doesn't come to that because, with all due respect, the city is in the wrong here. FFRF is in favor of honoring veterans, but points out that the cross sends several troubling messages. It endorses religion over nonreligion. And it indicates that the government cares only about Christian veterans — and disdains the service or deaths in the line of duty of non-Christian and nonreligious veterans.
"The religious significance of the Christian cross is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote last year to Taos Town Manager Rick Bellis. "Federal courts have consistently held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The display of this patently religious symbol on public property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause."
The fact that the cross is a memorial doesn't "nullify [its] religious sectarian content because it is not a generic symbol of death; it is a Christian symbol of death that signifies or memorializes the death of a Christian," to quote a decision of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over New Mexico.
Plus, the cross conveys a signal to the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are not Christians (including the 23 percent who are not religious) that they are "not favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and nonbelieving Taos residents political outsiders.
"We don't mean to disrespect the sacrifices of veterans — we just want to respect all veterans," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "By installing such an overtly Christian memorial, it is the town of Taos that is belittling the enormous sacrifices made by non-Christian veterans and servicemembers."
FFRF again requests that the cross be moved from the Taos Plaza to a more appropriate private location.
FFRF has undertaken a number of similar legal actions involving crosses on governmental property. FFRF's recent federal lawsuit against the city of Santa Clara, Calif., resulted in removal of a 14-foot Latin cross from a public park in January. FFRF is also suing over a 25-foot Christian cross in a public park in Pensacola, Fla., and over a cross and Christian symbols on the city seal in Lehigh County, Pa.
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 27,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 200-plus in New Mexico. 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.