(RNS) A California resort town, already reeling from a legal fight over the placement of memorial crosses at a minor league baseball stadium, is now engaged in another round of bitter acrimony over the display of crosses on public land.

March 6, 2014 - Lake Elsinore, Ca - Mercedez Devaney, 24 and her father Chad Devaney remove one of the roadside memorial crosses for 19-year-old Anthony Devaney after pressure to take down the crosses from the American Humanist Association on Lake St. and Temescal Canyon Road in Lake Elsinore, on March 06. Photo courtesy of © Frank Bellino/Press Enterprise/ZUMAPRESS.com

Mercedez Devaney, 24, and her father Chad Devaney remove one of the roadside memorial crosses for 19-year-old Anthony Devaney after pressure to take down the crosses from the American Humanist Association on Lake Street and Temescal Canyon Road in Lake Elsinore, on March 6. Photo courtesy of © Frank Bellino/Press Enterprise/ZUMAPRESS.com


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On Thursday (March 6), AnnMarie and Chad Devaney reluctantly removed a roadside memorial cross in Lake Elsinore, Calif., near the site where their 19-year-old son Anthony was struck and killed by a car in May 2012.

Not long after, another family appeared at the scene to erect six smaller wooden crosses at the same site. Each bore a handwritten message, including “What if this was your child?”, “To each his own,” and “Get a life.”

“They said they have to take that one down,” local resident Doug Johnson told the Riverside Press-Enterprise, after coordinating the display with his wife, Emily. “But they didn’t say anything about putting another one up.”

The original five-foot cross had been there for more than a year when a local resident contacted  the American Humanist Association, a national organization that advocates for the rights of nonbelievers, to complain. The AHA asked city officials to remove the cross because its location on public land violated the separation of church and state.

“Unquestionably, the city’s selective enforcement of its signage ordinance and its displays of the Christian cross on government property violates the state and federal Constitutions and must therefore be removed immediately,” the letter stated.

The city removed the cross in early December, but replaced it after the Devaneys complained, the letter states. The cross was allowed to stay through the Christmas holidays but the family was told to remove it by Jan. 6. Two months later, the family complied.

This is the second kerfuffle in as many months over religious imagery on public land in Lake Elsinore, a city of about 53,000 people southeast of Los Angeles. Last month, a federal judge ruled the city could not place a proposed veterans memorial bearing crosses and Stars of David on the grounds of its minor league baseball stadium.

David Niose, legal director of the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement Monday that Lake Elsinore has a “notorious reputation” for violating the constitutional ban on government establishment of religion.

“The AHA sent the letter only after it became clear that the city had been dishonest to the complaining parties, that the large cross could be replaced with a more appropriate memorial, and that the only way to remedy the situation was to let the city know that we were serious,” Niose said.

“A temporary memorial placed by a loved one immediately after a fatal accident could be understandable, but that’s not what this was.”

KRE/AMB END WINSTON

24 Comments

  1. The is a mispaced comma below:

    “The original five-foot cross had been there for more than a year when a local resident contacted the American Humanist Association, a national organization that advocates for the rights of nonbelievers, to complain. ”

    This is more accurate:

    The original five-foot cross had been there for more than a year when a local resident contacted the American Humanist Association, a national organization that advocates for the rights of nonbelievers to complain.

  2. Susan Humphreys

    There are crosses marking places where children have been killed in traffic accidents and one lovely sculpted sunflower, near where I live. I don’t object to either. One is on the right of way of a major highway (the sunflower) a cross is on private property at a country crossroads. Neither is a state or government endorsement of religion. I think the state should be encouraged to draft a bill regulating the size of what can be placed in such situations, that respects safety considerations as well as the needs of families to mark the spot where a loved one was killed. Simply demanding the 5-ft. cross be removed without offering another alternative shows gross insensitivity and is one reason Atheists and Humanists are “disliked”. There are other ways to address the situation, ways other than lawsuits.

    • The sunflower is interesting. I have never seen anything other than a cross, perhaps with some embellishments, at the site of a death. The sunflower does seem more like a memorial for the family et al. and less like an advertisement. How does anyone (you in particular) know it was associated with a death and is not just a random piece of art?

      • Susan Humphreys

        I pay attention to local news. A teenage girl was killed at that intersection. AND two girls died at the other intersection where the cross is located. The memorials appeared within a few months of the girls deaths.

  3. I thought cemeteries were for memorializing loved ones. What is the point of placing a monument at the site of death? Do the loved ones not know where it happened? What is the point? Is it an advertisement?

    I think such memorializing started with MADD and their desire to pointedly remind people about the dangers of drunk driving. I do not recall this ever happening 30 years ago. In my opinion, it has gone too far and it should to be regulated.

    • Susan Humphreys

      I first saw crosses along roadsides in New Mexico in the 70’s. And locals explained it was where someone had dies in a traffic accident. I assumed then it had something to do with the Catholic traditions of New Mexico.

  4. Isn’t there a better way to honor the memory of a loved one than to put a symbol, religious or not, at the location of their death?
    I mean if I were to want something to remember my loved one, it wouldn’t be something I only saw when driving by the location of the tragedy that took them away. That would be the worst possible moment for me to remember in what would more than likely be many years of their life.
    Is there some psychological need to publicly display that they loved them that I just don’t understand?
    Is there a Psychologist or Psychiatrist who could weigh in here?

  5. That cross was 5 feet high? That is obnoxious.
    Permanent religious symbols on Public property is illegal – simple as that.

    Some allowance could be made for a modest religious memorial in the months after an accident. But anything longer than a year or larger than Calvary is asking too much, for many reasons.

    Why is it that people insist on such displays?
    And why is there any grief at all?
    Shouldn’t these people be thrilled that their loved one is in heaven?
    Of course, they’re not. Because they know better.

    These roadside crosses, shouting for attention as they do, convey NOT faith but a lack of religious conviction. Like the guy who needs to prove he isn’t gay.

    • Susan Humphreys

      Max you are such a sad and sorry person. People grieve differently. As to the other person’s remark, I would honor my loved ones differently, but different strokes for different folks. You don’t know that people placing a cross really believe, they may have accepted a different view on death, Christian doctrine is quite varied from denomination to denomination and person to person. Some feel guilt at surviving, some at being left behind, some maybe for an argument they had the morning of the person’s accident. Who knows. Small crosses cause no harm to anyone. As I said earlier I think states should pass a law regulating size and placement of such markers. Personally I like the sunflower the best.

      • @Susan,
        I said, “a modest religious memorial in the months after” would be fine with me even on public roadways.
        How does that differ from what you advocate?

        Additionally, yes – these people who insist on stuffing giant crosses along public roadways ARE advertising. And they should absolutely examine their own motivations. If you believe that God took someone up to heaven why is that anyone else’s business?
        If I believe the magic mermaid drowns bad swimmers, who should you care? Why is it somehow everyone else’s business? The issue is PUBLIC vs. private.

        Temporary crosses are harmless, for a few months. But if we start putting crosses everyplace just because people died there, Hospitals would start to look like giant porcupines!

        • Susan Humphreys

          Max if you don’t think it is your or anyone’s business don’t pay attention to it. You don’t know the reason why people place crosses. Hospitals Max can control what is placed on their property. So your comment iabout their looking like giant porcupines s childish. I pointed out that states should pass a law regulating what can be placed, size etc. AND I pointed out that by not offering another alternative other than just removal American Humanist Assoc. should a total lack of sensitivity and that causes problems for their cause.

      • Susan,
        BTW, your lack of faith in people is sort of “sad and sorry” (your words).
        You are an apologist for every religious viewpoint no matter how inhuman – even Voodoo and Sharia Law – as if you owe no honesty to people.

        I claim the magic mermaid kills little children who don’t learn to swim properly. You okay wit me teaching that, even though I have no evidence?
        Ignorance is sad – and sorry – and I’ve been watching you defend it on every page.

        • Susan Humphreys

          Don’t lie about me Max. i don’t appreciate it. You know I am NOT an apologist for every “inhuman” religious viewpoint so cut the crap! Once again your personal attacks show that you know you have lost the battle. How many has that been now? But then who is counting. I don’t have “faith” in people Max, I try to accept them as they are and IF I can help them become better, even you!

  6. Where I come from, these things stay up until they fall down on their own. And at that point, someone cleans up the mess left behind. The city of it is city property, the county of it is county property, the landowner if it is private property. This guy couldn’t wait for that thing to fall down on its own??

  7. … all because Christians can’t settle for putting up their crosses on private property. They must always be placed solely on public property. Nowhere else is permissible! To limit them only to putting them on private property is intolerable since it deprives them of their religious freedom.

  8. find this whole article just sad! There is so much more all this energy could go towards. Instead of writing letters about religious symbols on public property that obviously has or will not cause physical pain or suffering to ANYONE. Here’s an idea get up off your letter writing ass and volunteer at your state home for children or at a soup kitchen. Do something to HELP someone in need rather than causing more heartache in an already painful situation. I mean really what harm does a cross on the roadside cause. Really? I’m all for religious equality and freedom I really am…but you cant expect to get equality and respect for your beliefs or lack there of… if your not willing to give it. I’m not of the Christian faith and haven’t been for the better part of 20 years…but leave them alone people. Go find something helpful to do. There’s no difference in some of you.. than those that burned witches at the stake hundreds of years ago.

    • @Lora,
      This is not a minor problem as you suggest.
      Why should everyone put up with law-breaking? A 5-foot high Cross on a public road for 3 years is free advertising for a philosophy that promotes Homophobia, Slavery and Torture.

      I am not “offended” by the cross, I’m just not interested in allowing public space for private BLATANT worship of a religion – unless it is temporary.
      Put a flower or a ribbon and we have no problem!

      Don’t tell me this is a minor issue.

  9. The problem is not the crosses per se, its the town’s general attitude towards religious displays on public land. They seem to be consistent repeat offenders when it comes to crossing the line between sensible and modest displays and obnoxious advertising for Christianity.

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