Peter Dowd, 76, has been care-taking for the Veterans Memorial Park in Marshfield, Massachusetts, for the last 19 years.
Ten years ago, he saw two children visiting the park with their grandparents in order to mourn their parents. He saw the kids decorating bricks and a small statue of the Virgin Mary with chalk in honor of their mom and dad.
According to WJAR-TV, when Dowd saw this, "It hit my heart and hit me pretty bad." Since he knew that the chalk would wash off, he took the bricks and statue home and painted them to make a more permanent display on the site.
The little display with the painted bricks and Virgin Mary statue remained there for almost 10 years. According to Dowd, he knows that the family appreciated the display because he would often see that the statue had been adorned with rosaries or other trinkets.
All that changed two weeks ago, when an unnamed resident complained to town officials about the statue being in the park. According to WJAR, town administrator Michael Maresco said, "Two weeks ago I got an email from one of our residents who wanted to know why there was a religious statue on a piece of town land."
After consulting with the town's attorney, Maresco determined that the statue of the Virgin Mary had to be removed. When Maresco notified Dowd, Dowd took the statue back home and replaced it with a white cross, according to Wicked Local.
In a Facebook post, Dowd defiantly dared anyone to complain about his new display. "See who complains about this at Veterans Park... If so, all crosses will have to be taken down for the deceased or killed in a accidents [sic] in Massachusetts roads on public land."
In response, Maresco promptly consulted town counsel about whether the cross will also have to be removed, and struck a pessimistic tone, saying, "Reading the United States Constitution, it says all religious symbols. I would say a cross is religious."
Contrary to Maresco's claim, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that refers to "all religious symbols" or even "religious symbols."
Maresco expounded on his beliefs about the constitution to Wicked Local, saying, "This becomes an issue because this violates the U.S Constitution. It's not something that we just decide we're anti-religious statues, the Constitution protects that you can't have any religious artifacts, whether it's Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Episcopalian, Wiccan, you name it... The bottom line is it falls under the Constitution, whether people like it or not."
Of course, the text of the Constitution does not say any such thing as what Maresco claims. Likewise, judicial decisions interpreting the Constitution do not categorically say that there can be no religious artifacts on publicly owned land. But Maresco's beliefs would seem to suggest that Dowd's cross display might not stand for long.