Secularists sue city over memorial of soldier kneeling in cemetery


A secular-progressive organization has filed a lawsuit against a Southern California city to prohibit it from displaying what it describes as a “divisively religious” veterans memorial.

The American Humanist Association is basing its suit, lodged against the City of Lake Elsinore, on alleged violations of both the U.S. and California constitutions, and is prosecuting it through the groups legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, according to The Raw Story.

“The city has clearly violated the First Amendment by unnecessarily choosing a divisively religious means of honoring our veterans,” said William Burgess, an Appignani Humanist Legal Center attorney. “In addition, the California constitution prohibits any governmental funding whatsoever for religious purposes, including religious monuments.”

The memorial itself will be a polished black granite slab depicting a World War II-era soldier, kneeling in apparent prayer with head bowed, before a cemetery cross, with a long line of crosses stretching out in the background. Below this is the inscription, “Freedom is never free.”

The city council unanimously approved the memorial’s design on Nov. 13. The overwhelming majority of those who attended that city council hearing favored the design. At the suggestion of one attendee, one of the background headstones will be a Cross of David instead of a cross, according to The Press Enterprise.

One of the few who objected felt it wasn’t inclusive enough.

The famous Arnold Friberg painting of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Image credit

“What about the others who served, what about the Muslims?” she said.

The Humanist Association bases its lawsuit on the notion that Lake Elsinore has commissioned a religious monument. But it didn’t. It approved a memorial honoring that city’s veterans.

In its one simple scene, it illustrates the ultimate sacrifice our nation’s military members have been making almost daily for over a decade, as well as those made in the years past beginning with the Revolutionary War. They made those sacrifices to both secure our shores and protect our rights — including our First Amendment right to worship as we please.

There’s nothing divisive about a soldier in prayer. One of the best illustrations is the Arnold Friberg painting of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge.

American War Cemetery
The American War Cemetery in Normandy, France. Photo credit

Indeed, we often hear of the non-religious finding God during adversity, and there are few events more adverse — terrifying — than war.

It should also be noted that the figure in the memorial isn’t merely kneeling before a cross — he’s paying homage at the tombstone of a fallen colleague. Similar tombstones are found in other military cemeteries, the most famous being that in Normandy, France.

Whenever I hear of lawsuits such as this one, I think, “There’s someone else with entirely too much time on his hands.” In this instance, the Washington-based American Humanist Association should allow the people of Lake Elsinore honor their veterans as they see fit.


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