Boone County (Missouri) Officials Finally Replace Christian War Memorial on Government Property

In late 2014, we learned that a war memorial outside the Boone County courthouse in Missouri had finally covered up the Jesus Fish symbol that had been there for 20 years:

That happened as a result of a letter that Americans United For Separation of Church and State sent county officials back in May of 2014. Officials feared a losing lawsuit and decided it wasn’t a battle worth fighting.

But then they began to change their minds.

A dozen people spoke against the decision to cover the religious symbol at Thursday’s commission meeting. No one spoke in support of covering the ichthus. Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said the commission would try to schedule a meeting within two weeks to reconsider the action. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said she preferred to wait until lawsuits against other governmental entities are decided before considering the matter.

Most of the speakers criticized the decision to cover the ichthus as disrespectful to the veterans for whom the memorial was erected in 1992 and their families.

Either the people in Boone County didn’t give a damn about any veterans who weren’t Christian or they wrongly assumed every veteran believed in the same God as them. Whether it was out of selfishness or ignorance, though, they had no business asking the government to promote Christianity on a monument. If they wanted the Jesus fish symbol, they could put it up in their homes or churches. Or the government had to allow every non-Christian veteran the same opportunity.

For a while, it looked like government officials had finally come to their senses. Owners of a private cemetery had volunteered to take the Christian monument and put it up on their property, and the county was ready to give them the green light.

That is, until relatives of one of the veterans found out:

Blessed be, the county thought, and sent letters to relatives suggesting the move. No dice, said one of the parents. Actually, he said, “No change.” He and his wife would not be satisfied with the move to the cemetery

So there was even more discussion. It all came down to a vote last August and — can you believe it? — the County commissioners did the right thing. They said they would replace the current memorial with one that doesn’t include the Christian symbol:

The county took legal advice from the Brown Willbrand, P.C. law firm in Columbia.

In a 45 page draft order, attorneys with the firm said keeping the memorial where it is with the “ichthys” or Christian fish symbol could “reasonably be construed by citizens who view the Memorial as being a governmental endorsement of the Christian faith, as opposed to other religious faiths or as opposed to those who have ‘no faith at all.'”

“The Memorial, in its current form, would be found by such court to violate the requirement of religious neutrality as imposed by federal courts,” the report says.

The report goes on to say “There is no historical basis for associating this Christian symbol with Operation Desert Storm or the Gulf War.”

This wasn’t disrespectful at all to the veterans. They will still be honored, but for their service, not their faith, which is exactly what the government should be doing.

The only downside is that taxpayers would be on the hook for the new Jesus-Fish-less monument.

Over the weekend, the old monument was finally moved to the cemetery:

Boone County Counselor C.J. Dykhouse said Monday morning that the memorial, which lists the names of two Boone County men killed in Operation Desert Storm, was moved from the county courthouse plaza during the weekend. A new memorial was erected to replace the Desert Storm monument. The new memorial is inscribed “in honor of all those who served their country in the Cold War, Southwest Asia, Global War on Terrorism.”

Now that’s an inclusive inscription. There’s no reason they couldn’t have used something similar before, saving everyone all this hassle.

(Image via Mark Schierbecker. Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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.