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Atheists Threaten Lawsuit Over 'Unconstitutional' RI Firehouse Cross & WWI Monument


"It's illegal, and we know that."

Image Credit: WPRO/Dee DeQuattro

Atheist activists are at it again. This time, the target of secular angst is a cross that appears in front of a firehouse in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a well-known atheist group, is threatening to sue the city if the religious symbol isn't removed.

The Christian cross, part of a World War I memorial that was built in Woonsocket back in 1921, is causing a great deal of angst among secularists who stand firmly opposed to its presence on public property. Taking on even more significance beyond WWI, the monument was re-dedicated back in 1952 to honor three fallen WWII soldiers who lived in the area and has since been a public statement of remembrance.

In a April 13 letter sent from the FFRF to Leo Fontaine, the city's mayor, FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Markert called the presence of the cross "unconstitutional" and claimed that a concerned citizen made the group aware of its presence. Here's a portion of the letter (read the entire note here):

In addition to the cross in the fire department's parking lot, the letter makes mention of a prayer that is present on the fire department's web site. According to the letter, the site "contains a prayer that makes reference to a monotheistic god and a picture of an angel."

But it is the cross that seems to be spawning the most controversy.

"It's illegal, and we know that. And just because its been there for 90-something years, doesn't make it right." Debbie Flitman, a local and member of the FFRF, told ABC6. "If they want to have a religious symbol on it, well go ahead, just not on city property."

Already, some individuals in the local government seem to be backing down, with Woonsocket Council President John Ward, in an interview with WPRO, saying that a legal battle would be too costly. Instead, he is advocating for a removal and relocation of the cross.

"I don’t think the city's resources will be best used to pay lawyers to fight for this. I’m sure the mayor can find a prominent private lot for the monument to be relocated to," he told the WPRO, going on to dismiss the supposed religious nature of the cross. "In this case, our case it is not so much a religious symbol but a memorial for people who gave their lives for us."

Ward also claims that he doesn't understand why the atheist group is targeting the cross and that his opinion on moving the symbol is rooted in a wish not to "waste any time" fighting the infamous FFRF.

"Maybe the good thing that will come of this, is it will be moved to a more prominent place, and the people it memorializes will get more attention and be better served," Ward told WPRO.

So far, Mayor Fontaine has no intention of moving the cross. This is the second major atheist case to hit Rhode Island over the past few months, following a debate over a prayer mural at a local high school in Cranston.

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