In Utah, when highway patrol officers are killed on the job, they are memorialized by a cross. It doesn’t matter what religion the person is or if the person is an atheist. A cross is put up. On government property.
According to Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Jeff Nigbur, “We chose the cross because the cross is the international sign of peace, and it has no religious significance in it.”
No, a dove is a symbol for peace. A blue ribbon is a symbol for peace. Or maybe even the Y in a circle.
A cross symbolizes Christianity.
And you probably figured out where this is going. Some atheists would like to see the crosses removed. They filed a lawsuit in December, and while it’s still going to court, they lost a motion today to have the crosses taken down before the trial gets started.
There’s no way of making this request without coming off as mean-spirited, cruel and like stereotypical atheists. Others may say: It’s just a cross and we’re honoring the fallen troops. Who would be so mean as to try to stop that?! Only the mean atheists.
One article on the case had a place where comments could be made. Read them. They’re appalling. Is that supposed to be Christian love? To hear that atheists need to disappear entirely? Nearly every comment shows people relying on emotion instead of reason.
I understand this all seems petty for most people and certainly there are more important things to be worried about in the world. But let’s talk about why this suit has some merit.
- The family is not picking out the religious symbol. The Utah Highway Patrol Association automatically puts up a cross endorsed by the state with a logo. This is taxpayer money funding one religion over all others.
Near where I live, there’s a stretch of road where a horrible accident happened a couple years ago around the fourth of July. Every time I drive by the area, I can see the crosses that the family put up on the side of the road. And I have no desire to take that away. No one should. It’s the family’s way to grieve.
But in this case, the family isn’t part of the process. If they wanted to put a cross up themselves, wonderful. As one atheist commenter wrote, he’d be fine with that as long as he could put a giant atheist symbol next to it (presumably if an atheist officer had died) without hassle. The atheists in the lawsuit are simply asking for a non-denominational symbol.
- That said, it’s illegal in Utah to put up roadside memorials, period. According to Utah Law (here and here), private groups cannot put up monuments or memorials adjacent to Utah State Highways. Even private citizens who put up these memorials will have them removed if they are on government property.
Personally, I’m trying to understand why the families are opposed to removing the crosses on the grounds that the locations of them are sacred ground. The bodies are buried elsewhere… Still, the atheists filing the suit are not opposed to memorials being put up. They just ask for a neutral symbol.
How do we fix this? Don’t make the symbol automatically be a 12-foot cross. Let the families decide what they want (like at Arlington National Cemetery). And take the Utah Highway Patrol logo off of the symbols. Let the courts decide if any memorial should be placed on the sides of highways at all and leave it at that.
Keeping the crosses as they are could lead down a slippery slope of government endorsing Christianity. Somewhere, a line has to be drawn. The best solution is to keep government neutral on these issues. Let the families do as they wish.
[tags]Utah Highway Patrol, memorials, crosses, Christianity, atheism, atheists, American Atheists, symbol, Jeff Nigbur[/tags]