On March 6th, AnnMarie Devaney of Riverside, CA was forced to remove a 5-foot tall cross from a Lake Elsinore roadside — a memorial to her son that had been in place for almost two years. The cross was on government property and had been ordered to be removed in January but, as of early March, was still in the place where Devaney’s son, Anthony, was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street in 2012.
After receiving complaints from residents, the American Humanist Association wrote to government officials in Lake Elsinore, urging them to have the cross removed, citing a violation of the First Amendment. While technically the AHA is correct in its complaint about the cross on public property, many are questioning whether the complaint was the “right” thing to do, including many atheists.
Most atheists and other nonreligious people are firm believers in the separation of church and state, but many still draw the line in a case such as this. Was the removal of the roadside memorial justified? Has the AHA gone too far? Is this case making atheists appear cold and unemotional? Or does the law need to remain consistent regardless of the reason for the cross?
While most would agree that a religious display is inappropriate on public/government property, many will also say that it’s acceptable for a specified amount of time, to help a family grieve.
I feel like there should be a middle ground here. Any of my regular readers knows that I’m a steadfast supporter of church/state separation. After all, that’s what this whole site is about. But roadside crosses (or other theist symbols) don’t bother me. I think they’re necessary for a religious family to memorialize the spot where something tragic happened and grieve over it. It’s healthy. I suppose an argument could be made that the memorial should be secular in nature, but I disagree. We’re all human after all, and if it needs to be a religious symbol in order for the healing to begin, then so be it. But I do believe that time and size limits need to be set. Two years for a 5-foot tall cross is long enough, and 5 feet is too high. There’s room for compromise here, and a modestly sized six-month memorial isn’t going to do anyone any harm in my opinion.
Like the title suggests, this is an issue that has divided the nonreligious community (if the thousands of social media comments I’ve seen are any indication). Feel free to share your opinion in the comments here. I’d like to know what the DividedUnderGod community thinks of this one.
UPDATE: I reached out via Twitter to David Silverman, President of American Atheists to get his view on the issue. Unsurprisingly, this was his response:
BUT… when I asked a follow-up question presenting a legal change, Dave responded a little differently:
THIS LEADS ME TO CONCLUDE… that if cooler heads prevail and we can sit down with lawmakers to discuss compromise, some of the conflicts between the religious and nonreligious can be avoided and resolved with everyone’s needs in mind.