Atheist Group Files Lawsuit Against Calif. City's Veterans Memorial

An atheist group recently filed a lawsuit against a city in California for approving what it describes to be a "government-endorsed religious message" in the form of a veterans memorial.

The American Humanist Association is filing the suit through its legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, over the "Cross Monument," located at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

The monument – a large, polished black granite monument depicting a soldier kneeling in front of a Christian cross – was reportedly created as a special homage to fallen World War II soldiers, as the image of the kneeling soldier kneeling is an accurate representation of how veteran soldiers honored their fallen brothers.

At the base of the large monument, which had a reported budget of less than $50,000, are the words: "Freedom is never free."

The lawsuit alleges that the cross, which was approved unanimously by the Lake Elsinore City Council in November 2012, violates the First Amendment's declaration of separation of church and state.

Additionally, the humanist organization objects to the use of taxpayer dollars on construction and maintenance of the monument.

"The city has clearly violated the First Amendment by unnecessarily choosing a divisively religious means of honoring our veterans," William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, told The Raw Story regarding the lawsuit.

"In addition, the California constitution prohibits any governmental funding whatsoever for religious purposes, including religious monuments."

The plan for the memorial was approved unanimously with a 5-0 vote last November by the Lake Elsinore City Council, with city Mayor Pro Tem Daryl Hickman and Councilwoman Melissa Melendez voicing their support for the monument.

According to the lawsuit, Hickman said during a council meeting regarding the monument that he "[feels] sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because the First Amendment, okay, it really is a shame that our society is leaning that way."

Councilwoman Melendez reportedly added that opposition to the cross proved to be 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. And now we have organizations who choose to take that opportunity of reverence away from us."

In response to upheaval over the cross, Melendez suggested that the image of the cross be accompanied by the Jewish Star of David, as gravestones from the WWII era often depicted both crosses and Stars of David.

The memorial reportedly received a wide amount of attention in this small Southern California town when it was initially approved last year.

Nearly 100 people gathered at the Lake Elsinore Cultural Center in November 2012 to discuss the planned monument, according to The Press-Enterprise.

Those reportedly supporting the cross monument argued that the focus was not necessarily on Christianity but rather on the reverence meant for the American fallen soldier.

Those opposing the cross at the meeting, including resident Barbara Anderson, argued that the cross monument was not inclusive enough.

"What about the others who served, what about the Muslims?" Anderson questioned at the November meeting.

"Isn't their sacrifice just as important as that of any Christian or any Jew?" she asked.

The Washington, D.C.-based Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers also reportedly wrote to the council requesting that they change the motif of the monument, saying local veterans objected to the Christian-themed message.

As of now, the monument still stands at Diamond Stadium, where the Lake Elsinore Storm play.

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