- (Photo: 630wpro.com / Dee DeQuattro)
An atheist organization is demanding that a Rhode Island city move a memorial cross from public property, deeming it a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to the leaders of the City of Woonsocket saying that they are threatening a suit on behalf of some concerned residents.
The memorial, erected in 1921 to honor those killed in World War I, is presently on display on public property in front of a Woonsocket fire station.
John DePetro, a Rhode Island radio personality, has spoken out against the efforts to move the memorial to an as yet undetermined private site.
"It is a war memorial and should stay. It honors those who fought and lost their lives. Removing it would be an insult to all vets," said DePetro in an interview with The Christian Post.
"This group targets poor cities like Woonsocket and acts as a bully. I am organizing a rally to gain support. We cannot let an organization like this destroy our history, with so many going into battle with a strong faith."
FFRF sent the letter to Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine earlier this month and protested not only the cross memorial at the fire station but also some of the religious material, including a prayer, found on the Woonsocket Fire Department's website.
"It is unlawful for a city government and its agencies to display patently religious symbols and messages on city property," wrote Rebecca S. Markert, staff attorney for FFRF.
"A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion."
While some city officials have said they consider the cross to be more of a memorial than a religious image, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-President of FFRF, told CP that this notion was "absurd."
"To suggest the symbol of the crucifixion is not a symbol of Christianity borders on a break with reality," said Gaylor.
"Atheists, Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians know full well this is a symbol of Christianity and its presence on city property is an unconstitutional preference for and endorsement of one religion over others, and religion over non-religion."
In an interview with DePetro on his radio program on WPRO, Woonsocket Council President John Ward explained that given the cost in fighting a possible legal battle, the city will likely go ahead and move the memorial cross elsewhere.
"I don't think the cities resources will be best used to pay lawyers to fight for this…I'm sure the Mayor can find a prominent private lot for the monument to be relocated to," said Ward.
"It's just something I guess they feel they have a need to do and frankly I don't quite understand."