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Atheist group wants memorial crosses removed
The Salt Lake Tribune ^ | December 2, 2005 | Michael N. Westley

Posted on 12/03/2005 10:28:28 AM PST by DogByte6RER

Article Last Updated: 12/02/2005 02:47 AM

Atheist group wants memorial crosses removed

By Michael N. Westley The Salt Lake Tribune

A lawsuit filed by the American Atheists in U.S. District Court on Thursday seeks to remove steel crosses that dot roadways throughout Utah and memorialize Utah Highway Patrol troopers who have died in the line of duty.

The suit has drawn harsh reaction from family members of the fallen troopers and promises to be the source of an emotional battle.

The crosses, which stand about 12 feet high and bear the trooper's name and the UHP insignia, were erected starting in 1998 and serve as a memorial for 14 troopers who have died since 1931. About nine of the crosses are on public land and all of them are placed near the spot where the troopers lost their lives.

Plaintiffs Stephen Clark, Michael Rivers and Richard Andrews in conjunction with the American Atheists Inc. also seek to have the UHP symbol removed from the crosses.

"The presence of the UHP logo on a poignant religious symbol is an unconstitutional violation of the United States Constitution. It is government endorsement of religion," said Rivers, Utah director for American Atheists.

The suit names Col. Scott Duncan, superintendent of the UHP; John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation; D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, executive director of the Department of Administrative Services; and F. Keith Stepan, director of the Division of Facilities Construction and Management Department of Administrative Services.

Rivers said the purpose of the suit is to eliminate religious symbols used by government agencies and placed on government land. American Atheists claim to have a membership of 30 million people. They are not opposed to memorials, just the crosses.

"We feel the department of transportation, by allowing the Utah Highway Patrol Association to pick a religious symbol is unfair. We think it should be totally secular with no religious theme," Rivers said. "[The cross] is a Christian religious symbol. People will look at those and automatically assume that religion is a part of it."

But the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a nonprofit, private organization, doesn't see it that way.

"The crosses are used as an international sign of memorial similar to those in Arlington National Cemetery," said Sgt. Todd Royce, who served as the association's president in 2002. "As a trooper, it makes me feel bad that it's even an issue. I know a couple of these troopers that have fallen and it's personal to us. We would hope the memorial of these troopers wouldn't be tarnished by any means."

The idea for the crosses came from Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby, who is a former police officer. Kirby took the idea to the association about 10 years ago and worked with Lt. Lee Perry to get the project off the ground.

Lori Lucas, whose father Tom Rettberg died while flying a UHP helicopter in February 2000, was not as delicate as Royce when she expressed her opinion about removal of the crosses.

"Without using extremely bad words, my family would be devastated," Lucas said. "It would be like disturbing and uprooting my father's coffin."

Rettberg's cross sits next to Interstate 15 in Layton. His widow Fran Rettberg, of Oceanside, Calif., has made it a ritual of visiting the cross each time she travels to Utah - about five times a year, Lucas said.

"It gives us a sense of pride for my father that he sacrificed his life for the community," she said.

Rodney Lund, whose son Dennis L. "Dee" Lund, was shot in the head while pursuing a suspect in a gas-theft along Interstate 70 west of Green River in June 1993, was equally appalled at the lawsuit but said he didn't mind the idea of a different kind of memorial, as long as some kind of monument remained.

The 74-year-old Ogden man is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and said the cross is not used in his religion, but he accepts the symbol as a memorial for the troopers' deaths.

"I understand the meaning of it. My religion doesn't necessarily revere that. If they wanted to do something else, that would be fine, but I'd hate to see them take it down," he said.

Dave Tabish, a self-proclaimed God-fearing American, said the lawsuit was the final straw for his call to action.

"If we take God's law out of our society, what's it going to become?" he asked.

Tabish, who owns a Salt Lake City-based insurance agency, said the suit is just another example of the vocal minority pushing their agenda down the throats of the silent majority.

"We've taken God out of the schools, out of our council meetings and taken the Ten Commandments out of government," Tabish said. "It's time we stand up and put God back in our country."

Tabish plans to organize a march in support of the crosses and vows to picket the courthouse should proceedings begin.

mwestley@sltrib.com


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; US: Utah
KEYWORDS: atheists; cross; memorial; moralabsolutes; utahhighwaypatrol
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1 posted on 12/03/2005 10:28:29 AM PST by DogByte6RER
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To: DogByte6RER

I suggest we send them to China. No religion to worry about there. They'd be happy.


2 posted on 12/03/2005 10:29:08 AM PST by Termite_Commander (Warning: Cynical Right-winger Ahead)
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: DogByte6RER

goodnesswins wants atheist crazies removed.....if they can "want".....so can I.


4 posted on 12/03/2005 10:30:46 AM PST by goodnesswins (I'll fight a war in my time......so my grandchildren have peace in theirs.)
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To: DogByte6RER

Twelve feet tall??? That sounds ridiculous.


5 posted on 12/03/2005 10:32:05 AM PST by Pan_Yans Wife ("Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny. "--Aeschylus)
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To: DogByte6RER

Where were they when crosses with soldiers names were placed in ditches in Crawdord?


6 posted on 12/03/2005 10:32:16 AM PST by CindyDawg (I always liked Bozo:'))
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To: DogByte6RER
Militant bigoted anti-Christian ACLU atheists on the march:


7 posted on 12/03/2005 10:32:27 AM PST by FormerACLUmember
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To: goodnesswins
I was just thinking...if the presence of crosses is offensive to atheists, then can I complain that as a Christian, the lack of crosses is offensive to me? If crosses are deemed an imposition of religion by the State, might the lack of any symbols at all be similarly deemed the imposition of a religion--atheism--by the State?

Silly, I know, but surely no less silly than these godless loons.

8 posted on 12/03/2005 10:36:31 AM PST by MizSterious (Anonymous sources often means "the voices in my head told me.")
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To: DogByte6RER

Lets hope they don't get a look at Arlington Cemetery.


9 posted on 12/03/2005 10:36:32 AM PST by billhilly (If you're lurking here from DU (Democrats unglued), I trust this post will make you sick.)
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To: DogByte6RER

Atheists.

For people who think of themselves as so much smarter and open minded than us people of faith they sure are bone stupid.


10 posted on 12/03/2005 10:36:40 AM PST by Sam the Sham (A conservative party tough on illegal immigration could carry California in 2008)
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To: Pan_Yans Wife
Twelve feet tall??? That sounds ridiculous.

Yeah. And if they keep erecting more, imagine how many there'd be after another 70~80 years.

IMHO, it's more appropriate to have a memorial plaque back at Highway Patrol headquarters.
I disagree with the atheists' anti-religious arguement, but I think individual roadside monuments scattered all around the state is a bit ridiculous as well.

11 posted on 12/03/2005 10:45:56 AM PST by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: DogByte6RER
Atheist Christian group wants memorial crosses atheists removed.

Atheists offend me!

12 posted on 12/03/2005 10:46:41 AM PST by Humidston (Sweet dreams, TC. Save me a seat, ok?)
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To: DogByte6RER

Just don't remove them....plain and simple.


13 posted on 12/03/2005 10:48:32 AM PST by cubreporter (I trust Rush. He's done more for our country than we will ever know. He's the man!)
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To: DogByte6RER

They are AFRAID. They are scared to death of anything religious. They SHOULD be afraid. However, the crosses should remain.


14 posted on 12/03/2005 10:49:36 AM PST by cubreporter (I trust Rush. He's done more for our country than we will ever know. He's the man!)
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To: DogByte6RER

These guys are sure making it tempting to consider bringing back the stake.


15 posted on 12/03/2005 10:49:42 AM PST by festus (The constitution may be flawed but its a whole lot better than what we have now.)
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To: Pan_Yans Wife

Twelve feet tall??? That sounds ridiculous.


What does comedy have to do with a unit of measure?

anyway, if the families want those crosses, need those crosses, let them keep their crosses, and dignity.


16 posted on 12/03/2005 10:50:59 AM PST by kajingawd (" happy with stone underhead, let Heaven and Earth go about their changes")
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To: DogByte6RER

This crap has got to stop


17 posted on 12/03/2005 10:51:35 AM PST by Vision (“We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the duty of intelligent men")
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To: Humidston

It should be obvious to all that this is an attempt to make their atheism the state religion. What don't they understand about "the free exercise thereof?"


18 posted on 12/03/2005 10:58:05 AM PST by PaxMacian
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To: DogByte6RER
If the trooper was a christian put up a twelve foot cross

If Jewish a twelve foot Star of David.

If agnostic a twelve foot Question Mark.

and so on.

19 posted on 12/03/2005 11:00:45 AM PST by joshhiggins
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To: kajingawd

It's just that when I envision the crucifixion of Christ I can imagine a cross that tall... not for any other being on earth.

I have no problem with them keeping their crosses. Do what they may.


20 posted on 12/03/2005 11:01:28 AM PST by Pan_Yans Wife ("Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny. "--Aeschylus)
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