Judge Rules Against Lake Elsinore City Council’s Veterans’ Memorial, Saying Its ‘Effect is to Advance Religion’

A saga that’s been working its way through the courts for years may finally be coming to a close.

While a detailed report on the Lake Elsinore Christian Monument can be read here, here’s the quick recap: In 2012, 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 which is below):

That’s a soldier kneeling in front of several 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.

Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson issued a preliminary injunction in the case, essentially 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.

That was only a preliminary injunction, though. It stopped the memorial from being built for the time being, but it wasn’t a final decision on its constitutionality.

In October, Wilson heard both sides present their cases in court.

And now he has issued a much more definitive ruling. According to court documents, Wilson says once again — and there’s little doubt on how strong his conclusion is — that the monument violates the law:

The Court concludes that Lake Elsinore’s veterans’ memorial was designed without a predominantly secular purpose, and that its principal effect is to advance religion. Therefore, the memorial design violates the Lemon test. Because the memorial design violates Lemon, the Court concludes that the memorial violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and California’s Establishment and No Preference Clauses.

Wilson based his conclusion about how the monument’s “principal effect” was to advance religion by quoting the City Council members themselves:

… there is strong evidence that at the October 23, 2012 Lake Elsinore City Council meeting, multiple City Council members expressed a predominantly religious interest in keeping the cross on the memorial. Responding to members of the community who expressed legal concerns about including the cross, Mayor Pro Tem Hickman said “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, to me, is leaning that way.”… Later in resisting a motion to continue a vote on the memorial until other designs were considered, Mr. Hickman added: “I’m not going to sit here and wait for people to denigrate my beliefs, okay… Let them just present their designs. We don’t have to change it.”… Council Member Melendez added that “it is a sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something that we are forced to hide.”… And in response to the motion to continue the vote, she later stated: “You know what… I think at some point you have to take a stand. I’m sorry. I just think you do. And I’m going to make a substitute motion that we approve this project as is and where it is.”

There’s no doubt that this is not a secular memorial. And now, it won’t be built — certainly not on the backs of taxpayers.

“I’m pleased Judge Wilson decided to uphold the valuable principles contained within the First Amendment,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Director David Niose. “I hope that if members of the city council still want to honor veterans, they will move forward with a monument design that represents everyone who fought for our freedoms.”

The City Council may decide to appeal the ruling, but at this point, I don’t see how they refute their own words. If they want to pay for their own monument and put it up in front of a local church, no one’s stopping them. If they want taxpayers to foot the $50,000 bill for a symbol that advances Christianity, they need to step down from public office because they’re clearly not qualified.

(Portions of this post have been used in the past.)

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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X