Someone ignited an improvised explosive device next to a war memorial cross that a prominent atheist group wanted removed from a public park in Coos Bay, Ore., an attorney for the city told Fox News.
An official statement on the city’s website called it an act of “criminal mischief” and stated that an ”unknown person(s) vandalized the memorial with an improvised explosive device.”
“We unfortunately are now to the point where explosive devices are being placed next to crosses,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at the Liberty Institute.
The Texas-based Liberty Institute was hired by the city to determine the constitutionality of the Mingo Park Vietnam War Memorial cross.
The cross is still standing, but did sustain superficial damage, Coos Bay City Manager Roger Craddock told Fox News.
“Other than some charred marks on the cement structure there was no real damage to the memorial,” he said.
The blast startled local residents as well as dispatchers at the local police station, according to local news reports.
The cross had been donated to the city in 1972 but had become the center of controversy recently when the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent city officials a letter demanding they remove the cross.
“We have no objection to the veterans’ memorials,” FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the city. “Our objection is to the message of endorsement of Christianity over other religions and non-religions.”
The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based group of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics that has a history of targeting small towns and communities on issues regarding public displays of the Christian faith.
“These people will stop at nothing to intimidate communities to tear down their veterans memorials,” Sasser told Fox News. “Now the crazies are trying to blow one up.”
Police are working with explosives specialists from the Oregon State Police but so far they do not have any suspects.
Sasser said it’s fortunate no one was hurt by the blast.
“This memorial is right next to the area where many children play,” Sasser told Fox News. “A child could have been killed or wounded by the IED exploding.”
In May the cross was vandalized. Someone wrote the word “Remove” in the middle of the cross along with a dotted line and arrow to indicate where to “cut.”
Sasser called on the FFRF to stop “fanning the flames of hostility toward veterans memorials.”
“There are consequences for fomenting hatred for what were once obscure veterans memorials,” he said. “The FFRF should immediately condemn this dangerous criminal act.”