‘A Violation of the First Amendment’: Secular Group’s Lawsuit Stops War Memorial From Being Displayed

TheBlaze’s Billy Hallowell contributed to this report.

On Monday, the American Humanist Association (AHA), a church-state separatist group, won a case to halt the construction of a religious war memorial in Lake Elsinore, California. The memorial, which depicts an American soldier kneeling before a Christian cross, was scheduled to be installed in a city-owned baseball stadium.

Before taking their case to federal court, the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter requesting that the council reconsider its plan to erect a religious monument that could be seen as a constitutional transgression. Ignoring the AHA’s request, the Lake Elsinore city council approved the monument back in November of 2012.

Photo Credit: American Humanist Association

So the organization, believing that the monument would represent a church-state violation, decided to take action. An AHA press release has more about the controversial move:

“Despite the clearly sectarian motivation for spending public money—and a warning from the city’s attorney that the monument as approved is likely unconstitutional—the city council unanimously voted to approve the monument anyway, saying that they were ‘taking a stand’ for Christianity and against the separation of church and state.”

It was after the project was confirmed that the AHA chose to fight the decision, filing suit in federal court May 31, 2013. Stephen V. Wilson, the U.S. District Court Judge who ruled earlier this week to block the memorial construction and installation, affirmed that the $50,000 project opposed the constitutional principle which separates church and state.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country’s veterans,” William Burgess, an lawyer with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said at the hearing.

On his blog, The Barking Atheist, Daniel Moran offered his views regarding the case.

“These are just more underhanded attempts by the religious right to promote religion,” he writes, adding that regardless of the council’s intention in approving the project, their actions reflect the endorsement of religion. “When it comes to the religious right, it’s not the inch they’re asking for that worries secularists. It’s the mile we know they want.”

Lake Elsinore city officials were given the option to appeal the decision. A copy of the AHA’s complaint is available here.

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