A war memorial in Knoxville, Iowa, is stirring controversy over its inclusion of a Christian cross — a symbol that critics claim is sectarian in nature and inappropriate for its current placement on public property.
The structure consists of a silhouette of a soldier holding a gun and bending down on one knee in front of a cross, and it has resided on public land in Young's Park for the past few months after a local veteran reportedly placed it there without city permission.
It is the inclusion of the cross, though, that led Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a First Amendment watchdog, to send a letter urging the removal of the memorial, KCCI-TV reported.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government bodies from promoting religion on public land," the letter read, in part, giving the city 30 days to respond to the request to remove the cross.
The complaint that sparked the letter was reportedly waged by an anonymous resident, according to WHO-TV.
Knoxville mayor Brian Hatch said that he's "shocked" by the negative reaction to the cross, which some view as a representation of a military headstone rather than an overly sectarian symbol.
"I’m shocked by the reaction of this. There are several of these around town. You see them all over the place," Hatch told KCCI-TV of the memorial. "We don’t want to offend anyone."
He continued, "At the same time, there are a lot of people who feel strongly about the veterans. So we have to take both sides into account."
A rally will be held in support of the monument on August 30, and city council will convene on September 8 to allow for public comment on the matter and to weigh how to respond to the letter from Americans United.
The monument was placed in Young's Park without city permission, though officials allowed it on the grounds that they assumed it was merely meant to honor those who had served in the military.
Read more about the controversy here.