Court says roadside crosses to fallen Utah troopers do not violate the Constitution

ADF attorneys stop attempt by American Atheists to remove roadside memorial crosses
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge ruled Tuesday in favor of the Utah Highway Patrol Association, represented by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys and allied attorneys.  The court rejected claims by an atheist group that roadside memorial crosses placed on behalf of families of highway patrol members who lost loved ones in the line of duty violate the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s ridiculous that a small group of offended atheists would seek to stop the families of slain troopers from honoring their loved ones as they see fit,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione.

“We agree with the court that there is nothing unconstitutional about what the UHPA and these families are doing,” added ADF Litigation Counsel Delia van Loenen.  “The memorials cost taxpayers nothing, and they were created to honor fallen troopers.”

American Atheists sued the Utah Highway Patrol and Utah Transportation Department, seeking a court order to force the removal of the memorials. The court granted the UHPA’s motion to intervene in March 2006.  ADF attorneys and ADF-allied attorney Frank Mylar represent the fallen officers’ family members and others with the UHPA who support the memorials.  Attorney Barry Hodge of the National Legal Foundation also represents the UHPA.

“This ruling demonstrates that a small group of atheists with an agenda cannot determine how the families of Utah troopers can honor their dead,” Hodge said.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court found “no Establishment Clause violation of either the First Amendment of the United States Constitution nor Article I of the Utah Constitution.”  It added, “It is not the place of law or government, using Establishment Clause jurisprudence, to exhibit hostility toward religion.  Such ‘has no place in our Establishment Clause tradition.’”

The court also wrote, “The undisputed facts and evidence before this court demonstrate that no public money or property was appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction as a result of the UHPA memorial cross program. Furthermore...the UHPA is not a religious organization so any incidental support offered to this program by the State Defendants cannot be construed to be ‘support of any ecclesiastical establishment.’”

The full text of the opinion from the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, in American Atheists v. Duncan is available here.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association is a private organization that supports highway patrol officers and their families.

 

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ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.