A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the placement of a clearly Christian memorial to soldiers planned for public property in Lake Elsinore, California. The suit was filed by the American Humanist Association, which issued a press release:
The AHA filed suit in federal court May 31, 2013, to stop the Lake Elsinore City Council from funding and constructing the display at the city-owned baseball stadium. The city council approved the project in November 2012, despite constitutional concerns. The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter at that time to the city council explaining that the cross monument would violate the separation of church and state required by the Constitution, but no reply was received. The city approved the design and allocated approximately $50,000 of city funds for construction and installation.
“It is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country’s veterans,” said William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center participating at yesterday’s hearing. “We are pleased that Judge Wilson has seen the necessary merit in our case to stop the religious memorial from being erected on public grounds.”
You can read the full ruling here. This is not the end of the case, it’s just a preliminary injunction, but the judge clearly indicates that the city is likely to lose at trial. The judge noted that members of the city council made many statements explicitly tying the design, which has a soldier bowing before a cross, to Christianity:
Then-Mayor Pro Tem Hickman stated, “I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because [of] the First Amendment, okay, it really is a shame that our society is leaning that way.” Councilmember Melendez stated that it was a“sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something we are forced to hide in society specifically with reverence to our veterans, the very people who have fought to protect our religious freedom…”
At that point, Councilmember Robert Magee made a motion tocontinue the item and direct City staff to discuss the design with regard to the “religious references.” Mayor ProTem Hickman objected, stating “I’m not going to sit here and wait for people to denigrate my beliefs, okay, and so I’ll give them two weeks.” Mayor Tisdale suggested that it would not be possible to have a new design in two weeks; Mayor Pro Tem Hickman responded, “Then we don’t have to change it.”…
Councilmember Melendez noted that the cross had been “controversial” but that the monument, asproposed, honored “all veterans,” and concluded that Monument had “nothing to do with religion.”
Funny how it has to do with religion and how it “denigrates” Christianity to choose not to have the cross there, then it suddenly has “nothing to do with religion” later. And no, it does not honor all veterans, it only honors Christian veterans. The local residents speaking out at the city council meetings certainly knew that it was about religion. One said, “[The cross] needs to stay just the way it is…This is a symbol for all denominations of religion if anybody knows anything about religion.” Another said, “I am in favor of any design promoting Bible morality.”
As always happens in such cases, the city council tried to invent an entirely new and non-religious rationale for the explicitly religious nature of the monument, but the judge noted that the legislative history of the monument clearly showed this to be false. To accept that the legally convenient position of the city council in regard to the purpose of that design was accurate, the judge said, “this Court would have to ignore the entire sequence of events leading up to the approval” of the monument.