A Colorado town has refused to take down a veterans' memorial following complaints from a church-and-state watchdog group that's opposed to the monument because it includes a Christian message.
Last year, the Town of Monument had a veterans’ memorial erected in its official cemetery, which was designed by teenager Michael Carlson, an Eagle Scout, who raised some $46,000 in private donations for the project.
The memorial included a plaque that read, “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul, the other died for your freedom. We honor those who made freedom a reality.”
The project recently garnered the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which argued that the memorial was a violation of the separation of church and state.
The First Liberty Institute, which is representing the Town of Monument, sent a letter to MRFF President Mikey Weinstein on Monday, explaining that the town refuses to remove the memorial.
Signed by First Liberty Senior Counsel Stephanie N. Taub and Town of Monument attorney Andrew Richey, the letter explained the background of the veterans’ memorial.
“Eagle Scout Michael Carlson spent almost two years raising private donations for a memorial to honor veterans like his father,” reads the letter, in part.
“Your letters and public communications to the media seek to disparage his efforts and the private speech of this 16-year-old resident of the Town of Monument.”
The attorneys labeled Weinstein’s rhetoric against the memorial as “an attack on a minor” and “profoundly disrespectful,” adding that the memorial was “privately designed, privately maintained, and located on private burial plots in Monument Cemetery.”
“The Town of Monument appreciates all efforts by members of our community, including the Boy Scouts, to honor our veterans. We respectfully request that you issue an immediate apology to Michael Carlson and his family,” stated the letter.
In response to the First Liberty letter, Weinstein told the Colorado Springs Indy that he considered the letter “preposterous,” adding that he and his organization “have no issue with the Boy Scout.”
“We have issues with the Boy Scout troop and the town of Monument, and government dollars being used to place it and maintain it,” said Weinstein, as reported by the Indy.
Weinstein also took issue with the memorial using the logos of various military branches, questioning whether they were legally used, given they are trademarked images.
The veterans’ memorial was completed last September, with a ceremony being held Oct. 3 that featured other scouts and leaders of Boy Scout Troop 8 of St. Matthias Episcopal Church.
In addition to the religious statement, the memorial features a crescent stonewall, a flagpole, a marker thanking donors to the project, and a “Battlefield Cross” sculpture.
Also called the “Fallen Soldier Battle Cross,” the sculpture features a pair of combat boots, a rifle placed upright and a combat helmet on the end of the barrel.
A story by the Tribune at the time of the October ceremony said Monument helped to clear out and dig up the space for the memorial, with it being considered “gifted to the Town.”
“Michael saw veterans were underrepresented here. He didn’t go to the government and say ‘Fix this.’ He decided to fix it himself and asked the government to help,” Mayor Don Wilson told the Tribune at the time. “His leadership and patriotism has bettered our community.”
Some local residents took issue with the memorial's religious content and contacted the MRFF, which sent a letter of complaint to the mayor.
Days later, Americans United for Separation of Church & State joined the MRFF in denouncing the memorial, sending its own letter to local officials.
“Displaying a message that indicates that the Town is affiliated with a Christian belief unmistakably sends the message that the Town favors those who follow its preferred religion and that members of other faiths and nonbelievers will be treated differently,” stated Americans United.
“It is also profoundly disrespectful to the Town’s fallen non-Christian veterans and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”