Utah Pays Nearly $400,000 to Settle Road Crosses Case

A couple of months ago, we found out that the Supreme Court had refused to hear a case in which Highway Patrol Officers in Utah were putting up 12-foot-tall Christian Crosses in honor of fallen comrades. That meant the atheists were victorious since they had won their appeal.

One of the crosses put up in Utah... it's supposedly not Christian. Right.

While the state paid only $1 to American Atheists to settle the case, the lawyer’s fees are a different story. And Utah’s Attorney General must be realizing that it was a bad idea to try to force Christianity upon the general public:

Utah paid $1 to settle the case, but the Utah Attorney General’s office confirmed Friday it is paying about $388,000 in fees to a Salt Lake City lawyer who filed the case for the atheists.

[Brian] Barnard said the $388,000 pays his legal fees but that the state and trooper association probably spent as much money and time trying to defeat the lawsuit.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association maintains the memorials and is repainting them to remove official logos. It was represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., group that describes itself as a defender of religious freedom.

So American Atheists wins the case (and a buck) and their lawyer gets paid good money for his work. Sounds like good news all around for the church/state separation crowd!

Tough for Utah taxpayers, though, since they’re the ones paying for Utah’s mistake.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Burt Likko

    Is it really Utah’s taxpayers who will be writing this check?

    I thought the Utah Highway Patrol Association was a private group of the officers, their families, and others who chose to donate. If it’s like similar groups here in California, its primary mission is to hire attorneys to defend police officers sued for the violation of civilians’ civil rights in wrongful arrest or police brutality cases (bear in mind, the officers are as entitled to a presumption of innocence in such cases as are any other defendants).

    The state of Utah is involved because it sanctions the crosses, and allows the use of state symbols like the Highway Patrol’s seal on the them.

  • Rod Chlebek

    How much did AA pay?

  • Miguelitoraton

    I didn’t think they were actual crosses but rather just the easiest way to be able to show the name of a person in memorial

    • eskomo

      A Capital T would be easier. A vertical pole with the name written vertically would be even easier.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=591058715 Thomas Farrell

    > Tough for Utah taxpayers, though, since they’re the ones paying for Utah’s mistake.

    They put these people in office.

    Around the country, over and over, people demonstrate a complete lack of respect for the civil rights of atheists. It seems that money is the only incentive they understand. I believe it’s time to bend to that reality and start demanding large sums to settle cases. I would rather people start whipping their state governments into line on the grounds of “we should not have government endorsement of religion because it’s wrong!” but I’ll settle for “we should not have government endorsement of religion because I’m sick of my tax dollars being paid out as settlements!”

    • Matto the Hun

      Hear! Hear!

      Make that a complete lack of respect for the civil rights of anyone Not-Christian.
      They are also paying for their outrageous arrogance that makes them think they can plaster their religion on anyone else whenever and however they like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    We just pissed off an entire state’s worth of cops, who now hate atheists even more than they did before. I’m not certain this was a real victory, or even a fight worth fighting. The next time you get pulled over for speeding with a Darwin fish on your car in Utah and get the crap beaten out of you, you might reconsider. I know cops.

    • Anonymous

       Maybe Utah cops are like that…I work for a police department in Maine, and I don’t know any that would be upset enough about something like this to beat up atheists. At least 20% of us at this PD are atheists anyway. We do have one Mormon, one Evangelical, and a bunch of generic Christians….but maybe Mainers are more reasonable on average?

      • M Wilson

        Utah is a like its own ridiculous little planet.  I don’t know that people would be beaten up for having a Darwin fish on their cars- I would like to hope it wouldn’t go that far.  But then again I’m an atheist living in Southern Utah and, as much as I would like to, I don’t advertise that fact.  Until they can somehow take a step back from the religion(as I was fortunately able to do), Mormon’s have no idea how completely brainwashed they are.  I have never been to Maine but I would guess that ‘Mainers’ are much more reasonable than Utahans!  I feel embarrassed that it went this far but because I live here I can’t same I’m all that surprised.

    • Bob Becker

      You do know, don’t you, that several other states have trooper roadside memorials that did not use a Christian religious symbol for their design, which memorials received no challenge, no opposition, and created no controversy.  Can’t help wondering why the Utah group could not have followed the wholly non-controversial example of those other states. They’d have gotten the roadside memorials they claimed were the really important thing long ago.  Unless of course they wanted to insist on the crosses for religious reasons… as of course they did. 

      In that end, all that got them was (a) removal of the memorials (b) a whopping legal bill and (c) the appalling spectacle of the state’s Attorney General arguing in court, with a straight face, that the Cross was not a religious symbol at all. 

    • Justin Miyundees

      I hear this too often.  This isn’t worth fighting – that isn’t worth fighting.  I even heard it in a little Facebook group that I follow that calls itself “Rational” in reference to the Cranston West banner case.  In the United States, a non-believer has a gnat’s chance of being elected so we are forced to take issues up in the courts.  If some cop wants to become a nazi over a Darwin fish, we’re supposed to just roll over and take it?  That’s called coercion and makes this DOUBLY worth fighting.  If we scamper into the closet at every hint of strong arm tactics (and don’t they just love it when we do?) then it won’t take President Santorum and Vice President Palin long to instate The Holy Sabbath Observance Act.  See you in church!

    • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

      You just pointed out why it’s worth fighting for.

      If jerks are in positions of authority, quietly submitting to them and appeasing them is not the solution.

  • Anonymous

    i guess the state troopers arguement could be that the cross was a symbol used way before xtianity thus not a xtian symbol at all. but since none of them probably know this we can only assume it is an xtian symbol. and of course their buddies went to heaven because as we all know you dont have to follow the rules of the bible to actually get into heaven you just have to be liked. ever notice that about xtians? not that some of them wouldnt be worthy of a place called heaven (if it existed), but it doesnt seem to matter how the deceased acted in life (adultery, drugs, cheating etc..) the living always say that the person is with jeezuz now. sorry, i digress.

  • David Fairbanks

    I don’t feel too bad for the Utah Taxpayers…  That tax money was already gone.

    I started viewing taxes as the moral equivalent of theft.  While that realization at first didn’t help me sleep at night, it makes me feel better in situations like this.

    Every year I get mugged by the state, and I’ve learned to let the money go.  I’ve been mugged by individuals a time or two, and they only got away with a few bucks each time.  I found that imagining them putting the stolen money to good use didn’t make me feel any better about the whole ordeal. 

    Although in this case some atheists got a dollar, that’s not too bad right?

    (I’m happy to defend my taxation = theft argument.  As an aside, I’m constantly surprised by how angry that idea makes otherwise rational people.)

    • Annie

      I’m not angry, but a little confused.  I understand that some tax money gets wasted on ridiculous things, but there are also many things people want and need that taxes pay for (roads, schools, police and fire, libraries, etc.).  I am not sure where you live, but I assume you surely utilize some of the services and features that are provided to your community because of taxes, no?

      • David Fairbanks

        I’m not sure about this answer.  It seems to me that you are saying that to the extent that I use services provided (against my will) by a government, I should pay for them. 

        I like it when people give 

  • Anonymous

    “Red” states already take handouts from the Federal government more than “Blue”, so maybe this will balance out the unfair practice of socialism-spreading the wealth, that red states put on the rest of us.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jinxmchue Jinx McHue

    So I guess in the end, it’s all about the almighty dollar.

  • Amanda

    What is sort of strange about this fight in a state which has so many Mormons, is that Mormons do not put much focus on the cross in their religion. Yes, they believe that Christ was crucified on a cross (and like all Christians, that is key to their beliefs) but you won’t find a one hanging anywhere in their homes nor will you find it anywhere in their churches. They focus on the resurrection, not the crucifixion. 

  • Ryan Friend

    I do not have a problem with the crosses. I think that they are respectful of the religion their fallen officer’s had. The problem would be the state promoting them and saying that the crosses were their idea. Individuals can put crosses up and I have no problem with it. When they say these crosses are the only way, then we have problems. 

  • Mitchell

    I’ve always wondered, why is it Atheists are so scare of a cross on the road? I mean will it convert you to Christianity with just a glace? It does you no “harm” evidently and clearly cultural expressions don’t violate the separation between church and state (as Jefferson meant it), just as it doesn’t infringe on Catholic rights for Utah to celebrate its Mormon heritage, or for Natives to celebrate publicly their faiths. Seeing as you don’t see a problem with forcing people to pay for contraception against their conscience, you mistakenly claim this is only Catholics which is incorrect but despite the widespread access to and utter lack of need for these products that already exists (cheap at local drug store and free at PP) you find it okay to coerce people to violate their own moral conscience ( you know that thing the first amendment was meant to protect) and rank up vast legal fees for companies that would otherwise be paying their employees (Hobby Lobby has been raising wages for 4 years and the government won’t just leave them alone). What on earth do you define as separation of church and state? Some magically double standard where your micro-grievances are more important then people’s morality? If it weren’t for your lame responses to Bad Catholic’s posts I would have never came here but the utter lack of insightfulness comparable to that of r/atheism (where I go for a good chuckle) may prevent me from returning, could you point me to a blog that does a better job of defending the Atheist world view so I may get some insight into this “rational” stuff you guys won’t shut up about? I mean Tertullian was better thought out than this.


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