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Military Investigates Memorial Cross at Camp Pendleton

Military officials at Camp Pendleton are investigating a cross that was erected by a group of former Marines to honor their fallen colleagues, after an atheist group objected to the monument.


 “Camp Pendleton legal authorities are researching and reviewing the issue in order to make a judicious decision,” Lt. Ryan Finnegan said in a statement to Fox News & Commentary. “As Marines, we are proud to honor our fallen brothers, and are also proud of our extended Marine Corps family. However, it is important to follow procedure and use appropriate processes for doing this in a correct manner to protect the sentiment from question as well as be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars.”

Photo Courtesy of LA Times

The Los Angeles Times documented the former Marines as they carried the 13-foot cross up a steep hill – a Veterans Day journey that took two hours. They were accompanied by the widows and children of the fallen Marines. You can read the LA Times blog by clicking here.

The cross was erected and dedicated to the memory of Maj. Douglas Zembiec, Maj. Ray Mendoza, Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin and Lance Cpl. Robert Zurheide. It replaced another cross that was destroyed by a brush fire in 2003.

The former Marines chose to carry the cross, rather than use a vehicle. They told the newspaper that carrying the cross was an act of profound symbolism: the fallen are never forgotten, the mission never falters.

But for Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the cross is a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

“The question is why government officials would allow this to happen,” Torpy told Fox News & Commentary.

Torpy said he contacted Camp Pendleton to raise objections on behalf of a number of his members who read the LA Times story.

“I can definitely understand losing someone in combat,” Torpy said. “I was in Iraq. But it’s unfortunate that now I have to be a bad guy and ask why is this on federal land instead of on private land.”

Torpy said he could have given the Marines a pass.

“Maybe, but not really,” he said. “This is a large, 13-foot cross – generally these things are posted up in places that lord over the surrounding area.”

He said the allowing the cross to remain on Camp Pendleton property is “exploiting my service in order to gain special privileges for Christianity and that’s not fair to me.”

Lt. Finnegan confirmed to Fox News that the cross is on Camp Pendleton land.

He said the former Marines who erected the cross were “private individuals acting solely in their personal capacities. As such they were not acting in any official position or capacity that may be construed as an endorsement of a specific religious denomination by the Department of Defense or the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Depending on the outcome of the review, the cross could be removed.

Torpy said that’s the appropriate thing to do.

“I’m sure there’s maybe some way that this could be worked out, but wandering up a hill at Camp Pendleton with an exclusively sectarian religious monument, a big one, and say ‘I’m just going to do this on my own – that’s not how the federal government works,” he said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a former Marine, said he was disgusted by the atheist’s complaints.

“It’s really outrageous and it shows the hostile environment that’s been created by this (Obama) administration towards religious freedom,” Perkins told Fox News. “At some point, we have to say, enough is enough.”

Perkins said radical atheists are attacking the U.S. Military.

“I’ve actually climbed those hills at Camp Pendleton and getting a cross to the top of them is no small challenge,” Perkins said. “But unfortunately, the greater challenge is to ensure that radical secularists do not crucify the freedoms won by these heroic efforts of the men and women who serve – on the cross of political correctness.”

Lt. Finnegan said it was unclear how long the investigation might take.