Veteran’s monument ruled unconstitutional

On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Central California US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that a veterans memorial monument that the city of Lake Elsinore proposed placing in front of the city’s minor league baseball stadium showing a soldier kneeling in front of a cross was unconstitutional because it violated both the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and the Establishment and No Preference Clauses of the California Constitution.


The original design had only a cross. During discussions about the design, some people objected to the religious symbolism of the cross and the City Attorney also said it might be a good idea to not have it. But some city council members present felt that it was time to “take a stand” for religion and keep it in. The five-member city council eventually approved the final design (now with a Star of David added in the background) by a unanimous vote in November 2012.

The American Humanists Association sued to stop the city and got a preliminary injunction in July 2013. After a full trial, they won the case. In his opinion, the judge used the Lemon test (based on the 1971 US Supreme Court ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman) to arrive at his verdict. As I have written before, to pass muster under the Lemon test, any governmental action must pass all three of the following tests:

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose (the ‘purpose’ prong)

Second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion (the ‘effect’ prong);

Finally, the statute must not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” (the ‘entanglement” prong)

The judge ruled that the image on the memorial, the history of its adoption, and the statements made by its supporters showed that it violated both the purpose and effect prongs of the Lemon Tests.

The judge refreshingly reverted to the older and stronger standard that neutrality under the Establishment Clause applies not just between religious sects (as some argue more recently) but also between religion and nonreligion, saying “If objects associated with religion are instead displayed primarily for religious purposes, the government sends the impermissible message that certain religious groups are favored over others, or that religion is favored over nonreligion.”


  1. says

    PS – I hate, hate, hate, hate those “freedom is never free” our “noble warriors” and “sacrifice” memes. They’re not noble warriors, they’re mercenaries and idealists who’ve been propagandized into being willing to die to keep a bunch of venal old men in power. And freedom? Lolwhut? At bayonet-point the US has replaced our oligarchs with other oligarchs, or swapped our oligarchs for another set of our oligarchs, but anyone who talks about “freedom” in a political context is such a naif that it’s hardly even worth trying to correct them; they don’t even know what “freedom” fucking means.

    I’m tempted to put together a memorial. It’d have a kneeling soldier, with the body of a dead civilian and another dead soldier. And it’d have a McDonald’s logo and an Exxon logo in the background. And words to the effect of:
    “They died, to open
    new markets, in service
    of militarism and lies.”

  2. raven says

    It’s not only in your face blatantly religious, it is sort of cuckoo.

    I missed the history parts where US soldiers were fighting for xianity.

    They weren’t. They were fighting for a variety of reasons, some good, some pointless. Iraq was the mistake to make the world safe for cheap unleaded gasoline and a dismal failure.

    Vietnam was for nothing rational and we lost anyway.

    WW II was in self defense.

  3. says

    Actually, I think a good memorial statue would be to get Rodin resurrected and have him sculpt the scene from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum” where they’re hauling the soldiers dying of the gas attack in the farm-cart. And, of course, the poem.

  4. raven says

    It’s also ugly as fuck.

    Yeah it is.

    It’s trite and cliche-y. And too busy. And not really visible unless you look real hard.

    And it is supposed to be a war memorial to US soldiers killed fighting for whatever they get sent out ot fight for. So why is that soldier kneeling before a cross? It doesn’t make sense either.

    Oh well, it’s Htichen’s rule again. Religion poisons everything. Including public monumental art.

    “They died, to open
    new markets, in service
    of militarism and lies.”

    Don’t forget, Because George Bush was an idiot. And to protect America’s oil supply.

  5. raven says

    @raven – you forgot Korea. Korea was fought to preserve a buffer state created to keep Russia and China’s pants bunched up.

    I left out a lot of them. I”m not even sure what the why was about for many of them.

    Somalia and former Yugoslavia under Clinton Lebanon under Reagan, another failure but a short one anyway.

    Grenada and Panama. Kuwait and Iraq I. Haiti. The banana republic ones early in the 20th century.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus Ranum @3:

    It’d have a kneeling soldier, with the body of a dead civilian and another dead soldier.

    Keep it simple. A hanged child, à la Enemy at the Gates. And “Dulce et decorum”, for sure.

  7. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Their big war, WWII, was fought in part to protect themselves and for huge trade concessions / payments from Britain. It had the effect of liberating Jews who had been persecuted by a Christian.

  8. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says


    “…a retired Marine… addressed the Council and said that “[t]he cross made [her] proud to serve [her] country, which was founded on Christianity,” and that “God is the cross for me. . . . It could be other things to other people.” (Id. 62: 21-24). Ms. Rodriguez also stated that “the handful of people who disagree with [having the cross on the memorial] probably never served a day in uniform, never served this country, never served what this country was founded for, never served what we believe in.” (Id. 63: 6-10). One member of the community spoke against having the cross on the memorial, which she felt excluded veterans of other faiths. (Id. 63: 16-25). Soon after, however, another Marine veteran stated that “[f]or so few in this city—and I mean few. . . . to think that they’re going to have the power and not have been in the military, I don’t know where they came from. They must have come from a third-world country and come over here and just want to start stuff.” (Id. at 68:17-22). He then concluded “[t]hese people need to go and find a place to live other than America.” (Id. 69:18-19).”

    …”Council Member Weber stated that “I think that when [people] look at [the memorial], they just see someone who is thinking about lost comrades more than anything else.” (Id. 79:8-11). Council Member Melendez stated that the memorial “honored all veterans, no matter your faith, or whether you even have one. . . . This has nothing to do with religion. This is an accurate historical depiction of a World War II soldier kneeling at a grave site paying tribute to a fallen comrade.” (Id. 79:23 to 80:2). Council Member Magee expressed support for the memorial design, and said that “what got to [him] the most” was “Deborah Rodriguez . . . talking about her cross and her time served and her son.” (Id. 83: 4-9). Mayor Tisdale stated he did not “necessarily subscribe to any particular religion,” and that he looked at the memorial design as “a historical thing, honoring our Veterans.” (Id. 83:18-21)”

    Yeah, right.

  9. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    It’s a good thing it’s not about religion!

    A few days before the next City Council meeting, Joyce Hohenadl, a member of the Design Committee, sent an email to other Committee members encouraging them to attend the upcoming City Council meeting. Ms. Hohenadl stated: “I am afraid if we do not attend the Lake Elsinore City Council meeting this coming Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7:00 p.m., we may lose any religious symbols on the memorial. All people who were attending the last meeting need to attend the city council meeting.” (Trial Ex. 20).

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Another favourite war poem (Bukowski’s target was probably wider than war, but it works).

    a challenge to the dark

    shot in the eye
    shot in the brain
    shot in the ass
    shot like a flower in the dance

    amazing how death wins hands down
    amazing how much credence is given to idiot forms of life

    amazing how laughter has been drowned out
    amazing how viciousness is such a constant

    I must soon declare my own war on their war
    I must hold to my last piece of ground
    I must protect the small space I have made that has allowed me life

    my life not their death
    my death not their death…

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