Judge Stops Lake Elsinore City Council From Putting Up a Religious Monument for Veterans

We have an update on the Lake Elsinore Christian Monument!

You can read a full recap of what happened here, but the short version is that the City Council of Lake Elsinore, California unanimously approved a $50,000 veterans’ monument to be placed in front of Diamond Stadium, a city-owned minor league baseball stadium (a mockup of what it would look like is below):

If you can’t tell, the soldier is kneeling in front of a whole bunch of Christian crosses… and one Jewish star. Because only Christians have died in our country’s wars.

And one Jew.

And no one else, ever.

The city council’s lawyer warned board members that this would be illegal, but they didn’t listen.

Now, they have no choice.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson issued a preliminary injunction (PDF), which is a fancy way of saying “This shit is illegal”:

… upon consideration of the meanings of the Latin cross and Star of David, as well as Monument 2’s history, secularizing elements, and physical setting, Plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their contention that a reasonable observer would perceive Monument 2 as “sending primarily a message of” endorsing religion.

The American Humanist Association is glad that the judge put a stop to this nonsense:

“It is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country’s veterans,” said William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center participating at yesterday’s hearing. “We are pleased that Judge Wilson has seen the necessary merit in our case to stop the religious memorial from being erected on public grounds.”

The city council can appeal, but they’d be crazy to try. In his decision, Judge Wilson cited all sorts of precedents for why this monument had no business going up on public property, paid for by the taxpayers. Still, the council’s defense attorney is acting like this isn’t already a done deal:

Attorney Kevin Snider of Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing the city in the case, said the ruling… did not include a written order and opinion, so the city is awaiting that filing before deciding how to respond.

Well, the written order is available now. It’s very clear that council members are trying to promote religion with public funds in a blatantly unconstitutional way.

It’s time for Snider to throw up that white flag.

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.

  • Sven2547

    Ehhhh, I’m not really feeling the outrage on this one. I do not agree that this is “primarily sending the message of endorsing religion”.
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-eY8EUNTYRFw/TxtufCDLG-I/AAAAAAAAAYw/1HRKs3Rkjp4/s400/Arlington-National-Cemetary-Memorial-Day2.jpg

    There are lots of examples of Christians shoehorning their religion into government and government-sponsored things. I really don’t think this is one of them.

    Edit: I erroneously thought this was an image of Arlington National Cemetery. It is, in fact, Normandy American Cemetery

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      The photo you posted is *not* Arlington National Cemetery. I’m pretty sure it is France (notice all those French flags?).

      The markers at Arlington look more like upright rectangular concrete block tombstones, just a little bit rounded at the top. Not shaped like crosses.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

        This is Arlington National Cemetery.

        • ToonForever

          And on each headstone, those making the arrangements are free to include whichever religious symbol marks the deceased’s beliefs, or none at all. As it should be. No particular symbol should stand out.

    • Cuttlefish

      Sven–A) that’s not Arlington. The headstones at Arlington are not crosses. B) take a look at what is available for headstones at Arlington: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Veterans_Affairs_emblems_for_headstones_and_markers
      C) There is a world of difference between thousands of individual crosses for individual christian soldiers, and a single monument representing all soldiers of all beliefs, but with just one version of a christian cross.

    • Soldier Issue

      I’ve been to Arlington, but I’ve never seen this. Where might I find it? So far as I knew, it’s been equal for all for quite some time.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Your photo is not of Arlington. Below is.

    • Sven2547

      Well fuck, I did a google image search for Arlington National Cemetery and got this one. Turns out it’s the Normandy American Cemetery.

      I don’t think confusing which specific cemetery it is invalidates my larger point, though.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        The comparison, however, does invalidate your larger point.

        Religious symbols are indeed used elsewhere, where the relation of Church and State has different guiding principles. However, the US government memorials are a generically secular marker, with a symbol individually engraved to indicate the religious affiliation of that particular commemorated soldier.

        • randomfactor

          The one on the left, btw, is the “Church of Religious Science,” which is NOT the Christian Scientists.

          • chanceofrainne

            Thanks for this – I was actually just about to post asking what that symbol was. :)

        • Sven2547

          I totally get that, and I agree with it too. The image on this monument in Elsinore nonetheless is depicting the site at Normandy where hundreds of American troops are buried. Is an image of that cemetery forbidden?

          • Nate Frein

            It’s not forbidden…it’s just not germane to this discussion. We’re not talking about France’s separation laws, and the Normandy graveyard is a French cemetery for American soldiers.

            • Sven2547

              You’re right, we’re not talking about France’s separation laws (I never brought them up), we’re talking about a memorial to American war dead. This particular memorial to American war dead has an image of… another memorial to American war dead. That’s what I see when I look at the Elsinore memorial.

              • Nate Frein

                There’s nothing indicating in any way that it is, in fact, a direct reference to the Normandy graveyard, especially with that Star of David tacked on.

                The Normandy graveyard simply is not a big enough cultural touchstone to justify this imagery.

                • Sven2547

                  There’s nothing indicating in any way that it is, in fact, a direct reference to the Normandy graveyard, especially with that Star of David tacked on.

                  Actually, it was that Star of David that tipped me off that I had seen pictures of this cemetery before (though I originally mistook it for Arlington). It’s a fairly unusual design for a grave marker.

                  http://www.ww2incolor.com/d/498316-4/us+military+cemetery+2

                • Nate Frein

                  “Oh, hey, I might have seen a cemetery like that before, let me go google it” is not what I would call a solid argument for it’s usage.

                • Sven2547

                  No, the fact that it’s a highly significant memorial to American war dead is a solid argument for its usage. There’s no need to dishonestly strawman me this way.

                • Nate Frein

                  Yeah, okay. Because 90% of American’s aren’t going to say “whut?” when you mention the Normandy graveyard. Hell, you thought it was Arlington when it clearly wasn’t. I’m sorry if you don’t like how I paraphrased you, but it wasn’t inaccurate.

                  I’m not disputing that the graveyard has historical value. It does.

                  It does not, however, have anywhere near the kind of cultural response necessary to justify slapping it up on a government sponsored memorial completely devoid of any context.

                • Sven2547

                  I’m a layman. I have no military training or experience, and I was able to recognize it as an image from a significant, iconic cemetery to American war dead (although I admit I goofed on which specific cemetery). You look at that image, see a smattering of crosses, and proclaim outrage. There is a context here, you just reject it.

                  Like I said, there are many (way too many) examples of Christian apologia shoehorning their religion into the public / governmental square. I really don’t view this as one of them. I see an image of a soldier at a famous cemetery, you see a soldier among crosses. You’re missing the forest for the trees.

                • Nate Frein

                  So you’re perfectly happy with honoring our soldiers with the image of a cemetery that only honors the Christian and Jewish war dead?

                  Thank you, no. I’m not missing the forest for the trees. You’re flogging a misguided French gift as something that should be celebrated as the good and proper way to honor troops.

                • Sven2547

                  “Misguided”? The Normandy American Cemetery is “misguided”?

                  “Misguided” because they put a cross on the graves of Christian war dead, and a star on the graves of Jewish war dead? Each cross and star (and whatever else, for all I know) corresponds to identified remains of a specific soldier whose religious preference was either known, or provided by next of kin. Unknowns and unrecovered personnel are inscribed on a wall.

                  Yes, I think the Normandy American Cemetery is a good and proper way to honor fallen troops.

                • Nate Frein

                  Oh, I see. So if you’re not known Christian or Jewish you don’t get a headstone at all.

                • Sven2547

                  So if you’re not known Christian or Jewish you don’t get a headstone at all.

                  I don’t actually know. I never said anything like that, and I think it’s very dishonest of you to jump to a conclusion like that. They very well might have other symbols in there too. In fact, I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

                • Nate Frein

                  You’re right. You don’t know.

                  Again, this is just not a big, strong enough cultural touchstone to justify two fucking rows of crosses (with one Star of David) on a government memorial in the United States.

                • Sven2547

                  …not a big, strong enough cultural touchstone…

                  In your opinion. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this highly subjective assessment. Anything else?

                • Nate Frein

                  Further, I personally think you’re overstating what you recognized on that memorial. You saw a memorial for the troops, saw headstones in two neat rows, and thought “Arlington”. That isn’t “recognizing it as an image from a significant, iconic military cemetery”.

                • Sven2547

                  No that’s cool, call me a liar. I can take it. Anything else you’d like to add?

                • Nate Frein

                  No, I attributed no conscious attempt to deceive. I just think you’re overplaying what you recognized.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  Like I said, there are many (way too many) examples of Christian apologia shoehorning their religion into the public / governmental square.

                  You mean like:

                  Then-Mayor Pro Tem Hickman stated, “I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because [of] the First Amendment, okay, it really is a shame that our society is leaning that way.”

                  Councilmember Melendez stated that it was a “sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something we are forced to hide in society specifically with reverence to our veterans, the very people who have fought to protect our religious freedom . . . . However, as I understand it, the cross on this memorial is an issue, there is a No Preference Clause apparently that we must abide by so that very likely, will have to be removed.”

                  Mayor Pro Tem Hickman objected, stating “I’m not going to sit here and wait for people to denigrate my beliefs, okay, and so I’ll give them two weeks.”

                  Notably, Joyce Hohenadl— the member of the Lake Elsinore Historical Society who had been selected to co-chair the Redesign Committee—addressed the Council, stating that “our ancestors came to this country with their Christian-Judeo faiths, as Councilmember Melendez said . .

                  . . I’m afraid because of lawsuit threats we are being blackmailed into sacrificing our heritage and our beliefs.”

                • Sven2547

                  Yeah, those guys are dipshits. You don’t hear me defending them.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      In any case, there’s nothing wrong with an individual marker to an individual solider of known religion reflecting that soldier’s religion. But the case in question is using nothing but crosses (and one Star of David) to represent all soldiers who have died. As if there have never been any Muslim, Hindu, atheist, Pagan, Native American, or any other kind of soldier.

      Pat Fucking Tillman for the obvious counter example.

      • Sven2547

        Pat Fucking Tillman for the obvious counter example.

        Come on, there’s no need for the hostility here. I never said nor implied anything like that. Take a chill pill and read what I’m actually typing instead of lumping me in with the the Christian-supremacist apoligia.

        If they put up a big ol’ cross as a war memorial I’d be right there with you, because that would be pretty darn stupid. But to me this one just looks like an image taken at a particular (famous) war cemetery for American dead (albeit located in France). In fact, the engraving is almost certainly based on a photograph.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          Yes, kiddies, please be reasonable while I attempt to minimize your contributions to society. Be quiet and enjoy your seats in the back of the bus.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Sorry, that wasn’t meant as hostility. The last line in particular was meant as a reference to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwsy8FEL0ls

    • UWIR

      I see there being four main hypotheses:
      (1). The designer, like sven, thought that Arlington has crosses, and so put in crosses in imitation.
      (2). The designer just put a bunch of crosses on the monument, without any cemetery in mind.
      (3). The designer decided that out of all cemeteries to base this on, one in France best represented American war dead.
      (4). The designer wanted to put crosses on the monument, and so picked the cemetery in France specifically because it had crosses in it.

      I would rank these hypotheses like this:
      (2) >> (1)>(4)>>(3)

      (2) and (4) are definitely shoehorning religion in. (1) is evidence of unconsciously bias towards religion in, and is arguably worse. Only (3) is a legitimate reason for the crosses, and, in my opinion, it is by far the least likely. Ask 100 people to name a cemetery that represents American war dead, and I’d guess 90 of them would say Arlington, 10 wouldn’t be able to think of any, and none would say Normandy. Try doing a Google image search on “national cemetery” and seeing how many crosses you see.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Don’t forget to read the comments posted at http://blog.pe.com/2013/07/17/lake-elsinore-federal-judge-rules-against-citys-veterans-monument/

    This person takes the cake so far.

    Jj Ceel · Top Commenter
    All our brave veteran’s denied a statue in their honor because of religious symbols? What the fuhk has this country come to? This is ridiculous. You don’t like it, don’t look at it you ignorant pieces of scum.

    Jj Ceel · Top Commenter
    And by the way, that’s to the atheist’s who have nothing better to do with their sorry lives than to try and make everyone as miserable as them. Pathetic losers.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      And

      Marco C · Follow · Top Commenter · Sacramento, California

      How about changing the head stone to the ones at Arlington? or even better, use the Boots, rifle and helmet which is what soldiers in combat gear would be more likely to kneel at?

      While they are at it,, I would also redesign the terrible lettering over the flag which makes both look terrible. Leave the flag and move the text elsewhere or place the text and have a real flag on to. Both make the design look like bad clip art.

      In fact, this monument is really not that pretty, cross or not. It would be better if they hired a real designer instead of using MS Office for their art.

      Design fights FTW!

      • Bill Santagata

        THANK YOU! In their fight to put up the monument because of its religious symbols, they are blind to the fact that the monument is really very ugly. I also don’t think a stadium is the proper venue to host such a monument.

      • pRinzler

        It’s not only atheists who can’t do proper graphic design.

    • UWIR

      “This person takes the cake so far.”

      Don’t you mean “take’s the cake”?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

        You shall never knew :)

  • Mario Strada

    If they start complaining about “religious freedom” they should also explain how hard it would be to redesign the monument with the rifle, boots and helmet instead of the cross, since it happens to be what soldiers in the field actually do kneel to.

    Or they could use the Arlington pill shaped headstone instead.

    If they want to push it with the cross, then they are doing it in bad faith because it is not necessary.

    FYI: I am a veteran. Never been in combat but I am not totally ignorant of military life and traditions.

  • David Mock

    If funny because they were warned.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Good riddance to this thing for both the religious endorsement as well as the ugh, aesthetics. Why is it that memorial monuments, with a few exceptions, are so butt ugly? Are they like lamps, almost impossible to design one that isn’t uuuhglyyy?

    I wouldn’t mind seeing something honoring veterans both living and deceased. That would be a good thing. Surely some talented artist or designer can come up with something with not quite so cliche´ symbols about service, sacrifice, and freedom and also not have the final object looking like a collection of kid’s toy blocks.

  • Brian

    What annoys me more than anything with stories like this, is you inevitably now have fodder for the religious right to claim that Secularists are somehow against “honoring veterans,” and its a catchphrase that is VERY effective. Im sure just about any atheist would love to see a monument to veterans, just not one like this. Fallen soldiers SHOULD be memorialized, not used for religious divisiveness.

    • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

      That’s what disgusts me. The idea of colleagues of mine who died and weren’t Christians having their memories used to advance these theocratic insults to the very Constitution they signed up to defend.

      Either the folks behind this are supremely ignorant, and don’t deserve to be re-elected, or they’re intentionally manipulative, and deserve the country’s collective scorn and odium.

      EDIT: changed “counties” to “country’s”. Typo brought to you by a smartphone being used at the bar over dinner!

      • meekinheritance

        Or both.

    • WoodyTanaka

      Well, you can’t worry about what spin someone else might put on things. And you certainly can’t let it stop you from doing what is right.

      And I, for one, would love it if this country stopped its pro-military fetish. How about instead of the next in a series of a trillion shrines to government employees who are in the military, we put a monument to honor public school teachers whose work has a might higher chance of affecting the quality of life of you and your children than some dude in camo.

      Maybe if we were a bit skeptical about this obsessive fawning over the military and veterans, we wouldn’t be bankrupting ourselves by the trillions we waste on toys for the military while our people can’t get decent healthcare and our infrastructure is failing.

  • Robster

    How does such silly nonsense like a christian belief, something that is really quite irrelevant and meaningless able to exert such a strong cultural influence? It’s not like it’s in any way true.

    • Mr. Pantaloons

      Because sadly, something being false has never been a good enough reason on its own for people to stop wanting to believe it, let alone strongly enough to throw away billions of dollars and thousands of lives waging wars and propaganda campaigns to force other people to take them seriously. Think of how strong the anti-vaccination and “intelligent design” movements STILL are. Think of how long it’s STILL taking for racial/sexual discrimination to be recognized as socially bad things. Think of how many politicians and celebrities whose appeal is BUILT on preserving these things for no other reason than tradition.

      The ideas of tolerance, diversity, and education threaten the power structures of religious institutions, whose sole remaining claim to relevance at this point is that they’ve been here the longest, and have felt the least need to change. Religious privilege is based on having been around to influence, or at least witness, so much of human civilization already that it never really feels the obligation to truly examine whether it’s actually contributing to the progress of anything other than its own continued existence. On the micro level, the people whose own power is derived from this tradition of artificial superiority are going to fight tooth and nail to silence anyone who dares suggest that the Emperor is actually naked.

      And generally speaking (and certainly truly of the religious right, whose influence has been steadily increasing for the last 30 years), people would rather voluntarily believe complete bullshit, under the premises of the American ideals of personal liberty and freedom of expression, than be forced to accept the limitations of reality on its own terms.

      • Crystal Bandy Thomas

        Thanks so much for your response to this article Mr Pantaloons. You make so much sense.

    • UWIR

      But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the real truth?

      Isn’t that which fascinates us, by definition, true?

  • Zaydin

    Why not just get rid of the religious symbols and replace it with either a generic tombstone, or a rifle planted in the ground with a helmet resting on top? Honors veterans that way without being religious. But there I go being sensible.

    • Intelligent Donkey

      But that would make Baby Jesus cry.

    • C Peterson

      Because the intent of this monument isn’t to honor veterans at all. The intent of this monument is to deliver a religious message. Veterans are simply being used as a tool in this goal.

      Which really means that the creators and supporters of the monument are the ones dishonoring veterans.

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    I’d just like to extend my hearty and entirely insincere thanks to Lake Elsinore for extending a big “fuck you” to me and all the other atheist and non-christian Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, as well as veterans of other wars.

    Always nice to reflect on a combined two years of service in both theaters and know that it wasn’t as important because I decided to check the maps before I went on patrol instead of praying.

    • chanceofrainne

      Well I don’t know about anyone else but I would like to personally extend my thanks to you. I don’t support the wars themselves (handwave/politics) but I absolutely honor you for being willing to put your life on the line every day and do what you thought was right.

      • WoodyTanaka

        Well, the Ft Hood shooter put his life on the line doing what he thought was right, too. Do you “absolutely honor” him, too?

        • chanceofrainne

          TROLL IN THE DUNGEON

  • Sweetredtele

    During WW2 Somewhere between 9-14 million atheists (Russian soldiers) died wearing down the Germans so that there were only 418,000 US casualties.

    • The Other Weirdo

      What the hell does that mean?

      • wright1

        I believe they’re making the point that the Soviet Union bore the majority of casualties for the Allies in WW2, and arguably caused the Nazis to expend irreplaceable assets trying to fight on two fronts simultaneously. While true, “only” is a poor way to characterize American WW2 losses.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Yes, I am aware. I was just hoping for an explanation from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

        • Sweetredtele

          Sorry about the “only”. I often hear that used when there is a disparity of losses in battles. I certainly didn’t mean to regard those lives as unimportant. I was mentally comparing the US losses vs the total casualties of probably 25-30 million from the Soviet population.

          • wright1

            Understood, Sweetredtele. Thanks for the clarification.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Not that it affects your point, but a great many of those Soviet soldiers were not atheists.

      • Sweetredtele

        Officially, yes, unofficially, no. Also,isn’t that the way the whole country was viewed during the red scare?-all godless heathens.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          You mean officially atheist, unofficially mixed bag? It’s just that my wife’s grandmother, although not a soldier, like pretty much everyone with a pulse was active in the defense of Moscow. And wasn’t an atheist.

          I have no idea of exact numbers, but there was never a point at which everyone was officially atheist in the USSR. It’s just that being religious was not very good for your career, among other things.

          • chanceofrainne

            I may be misunderstanding, but I believe Sweetredtele meant that in cold-war era propaganda, the USSR was represented to USians (and likely others) as godless commie heathen atheist pinko freedom-haters.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              Could be.

              I’m really being more of a pedantic nit than saying anything substantive.

              I think you could safely say that vastly more Soviet atheists (official, unofficial, US view, take your pick) than Americans of all religious backgrounds died in WW II.

              • chanceofrainne

                Quite honestly, I think it would be better (and more correct) to simply say that more Russians than Americans died in WW2, and consider their backgrounds irrelevant.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  As a stand-alone statement, absolutely. We’re only bringing up their religious background as a counterpoint to this monument.

                • Sweetredtele

                  Exactly. And exactly why the monument is wrong.

  • SeekerLancer

    I think it’s funny that they thought one Star of David would be enough diversity to give their monument a pass.

    • Oranje

      “Well, what we’ve got here is both kinds of soldiers. Christians AND a Jew.”

      • UWIR

        Plus, Catholics are also represented.

        • SeekerLancer

          Oooh, sick burn.

    • UWIR

      This monument is extremely diverse. Whether you’re a black Christian, a Hispanic Christian, an Asian Christian, or a regular Christian, you’re represented.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    Why cant they just keep their religious monuments to religious buildings? There’s no rule that says they cant built stuff on their own land but they always wanna put it in public places, just assuming everyone agrees with them and everyone who disagrees is the devil…

  • Michael Caton

    Hi Hemant, thanks for following this story so well. There’s a thriving atheist community in San Diego and one of the groups here is San Diego New Atheists – 1350 members as of right now. Please feel free to share our info or put anyone in contact with us (info at website for everyone)! Thanks, Mike

    http://www.meetup.com/san-diego-atheists-agnostics/


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