Atheists won a major legal victory against public religious memorials after the Supreme Court announced it would not take up the case of roadside crosses in Utah meant to honor fallen law enforcement officers.
“It is time for the crosses to come down,” David Silverman, president of American Atheists, told Fox News.“The case is over.”
“Now the state troopers can be honored in a way that is legal – by a secular memorial that is good for everybody,” he said.“We hope and expect the Utah Highway Patrolman’s Association to honor their fallen troopers in a way that supports the Constitution that those troopers died protecting.”
The decision left standing a lower court ruling that declared the crosses, on public ground, conveyed “to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or other endorses a certain religion.”
American Atheists sued the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Transportation Dept. in 2005 claiming that the roadside memorials were a state establishment of religion.
“This was a perfect example of the state endorsing one religion and trying to get away with it by saying the crosses were not Christian,” Silverman said. “Everybody knows the crosses are Christian and when you look at a cross you see Christianity.”
But supporters of the memorials argued that they were funded and maintained by a private organization – the Utah Highway Patrol Association.
Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund called the Supreme Court ruling “very disappointing.” The ADF represented the Utah Highway Patrol Association before the Supreme Court.
“Certainly Americans ought to be able to honor fallen heroes in a way they see fit, “attorney Gary McCaleb told Fox News. “The angst of an atheist should not trump the ability to recognize fallen heroes.”
McCaleb called the ruling a “sad victory” for atheists”– who he accused of “imposing the values on the families and colleagues of fallen officers.”
“The ADF will do everything in its power to ensure that those crosses remain while the case continues to be litigated,” he said. “We are confident at the end of the day those troopers will be able to memorialize their fallen.”
Among those blasting the Supreme Court decision was Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
“The Supreme Court has failed to recognize that religious liberty is a fundamental right given to us by God and protected in the Constitution,” wrote in a statement. “I find it tragic that our freedoms are now at greater risk from our own courts than from the foreign or domestic enemies we’ve faced.”