Calif. Residents Protest Removal of Memorial Cross After Atheists' Complaint

Some residents of Lake Elsinore, Calif., are protesting the removal of a cross, which was placed two years ago in honor of a young Christian man who died in an accident there, by installing smaller crosses with messages for the atheist group under whose pressure the memorial was taken down.

"What happened to our freedom," reads the message on one of the small wooden crosses that replaced the big, white cross that was set up as a memorial for 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, who was fatally struck by a car while crossing Lake Street in May 2012.

"What if this was your child?!?!" reads the message on another cross. "Ever heard the phrase to each his own?!!! Does this bother you??? Look the other way!!" says another one. "People suck!!! Get a life!!!" reads yet another one.

The mother of the deceased, Annmarie Devaney, removed the memorial cross last Thursday to avoid a conflict, as the American Humanist Association had complained to the city of Lake Elsinore saying the cross on public property was unconstitutional and a matter of separation of church and state.

"It hurts. It's like reliving the moment again, it's like losing my son again pretty much," Annmarie told ABC News. "I don't understand why they need it to come up, but me being the mom and try to keep it positive, I want to do what's right and I don't want to make it a big deal or cause a scene."

"I think they're just looking for something to complain about, really, and I think that it's petty," she told The Riverside Press-Enterprise. "The cross is there because my son's Christian, and not for any other reason. I don't know why they're doing this, but it makes me sad."

The atheist group has said it is "pleased with the city's decision to comply with the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state by removing the Latin cross from its property."

Following the removal of the cross blogger Hemant Mehta the "Friendly Atheist" wrote on the Patheos website, "These replacement crosses are far more offensive to Anthony Devaney's memory than anything the Humanists did. Where's the backlash against these people who are using an unfortunate controversy to advance their own agenda?"

Mehta says the Devaney family could build another memorial in their home or church focusing on how Anthony lived instead of where he died. "And let's see how quickly the Lake Elsinore City Council removes these distraction crosses; at this point, there should be no reason for a delay."

According to Press-Enterprise, City Councilman Brian Tisdale says he thinks the atheist group is being insensitive by requesting Devaney to remove the cross. "I think they're going a little bit overboard and being insensitive to other people's needs," he said. "This has nothing to do with city or government."

Tisdale previously headed the city's committee that planned to erect a veterans' memorial of a soldier kneeling next to a cross at the local minor league baseball stadium. The American Humanist Association challenged the veterans' memorial, and in February a U.S. district judge ruled the monument was unconstitutional and must be redesigned.