Sectarian prayers have no place at a public memorial site, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is explaining to a village in Ohio.
A concerned community member in Evendale (near Cincinnati) contacted FFRF to report that in May 2017, the village spent more than $388,000 to rebuild its Veterans, Police and Fire Memorial. Part of the memorial contains seven plaques prominently displayed upon separate gray-stone pillars. Each of these plaques features an exclusively Christian prayer, with five ending "through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
One of these reads, for instance:
A Marine Prayer
O Eternal Father, we commend to thy protection and care the members of the Marine Corps. Guide and direct them in the defense of our country and in the maintenance of justice among nations. Protect them in the hour of danger. Grant that wherever they serve they may be loyal to their high traditions and that at all times they may put their trust in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
FFRF contends that Evendale needs to remove the prayer plaques in order to avoid unconstitutionally endorsing religion.
"Christian prayers at a public memorial are an affront to the many brave servicemembers of minority religions and no religion who have fought and died for their country," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We are here to remind Evendale that there are indeed atheists in foxholes and that a quarter of the U.S. military is nonreligious. Such veterans and other non-Christian servicemembers must not be excluded by the government they have served."
Public memorials across the United States that honor veterans, law enforcement and first responders without using any sectarian language include the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National September 11 Memorial, and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The lack of religious imagery within these memorial designs neither diminishes their significance nor detracts from the respect and honor shown for those who have served our country.
By placing sectarian prayers on its memorial, the village sends the message that it values the service of nonreligious service members, police officers and firefighters less than their religious counterparts, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Evendale Mayor Richard Finan.
Federal courts of appeals have regularly held that memorials featuring religious emblems or messages are unconstitutional. FFRF is committed to defending the rights of religious minorities and the nonreligious when governments insist on promoting religion in their memorial displays. The state/church watchdog notes that it can be quite costly for a government to ignore its obligations under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The city of King, N.C., learned this in January 2015 when it settled a lawsuit over a Christian flag and statue of a kneeling soldier in its veterans memorial. It had to agree to pay $500,000 in legal fees and the religious flag and statue were removed from the display.
FFRF asks that in recognition of all veterans, military members, police officers and firefighters, the village of Evendale remove the religious plaques from its Veterans, Police and Fire Memorial.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that represents more than 32,000 members and has 20 chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.