AHA Forces Removal of Memorial Cross — Atheist Community Divided

Image courtesy of Christian Post

On March 6th, AnnMarie Devaney of Riverside, CA was forced to remove a 5-foot tall cross from a Lake Elsinore roadside — a memorial to her son that had been in place for almost two years.  The cross was on government property and had been ordered to be removed in January but, as of early March, was still in the place where Devaney’s son, Anthony, was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street in 2012.

After receiving complaints from residents, the American Humanist Association wrote to government officials in Lake Elsinore, urging them to have the cross removed, citing a violation of the First Amendment.  While technically the AHA is correct in its complaint about the cross on public property, many are questioning whether the complaint was the “right” thing to do, including many atheists.

Most atheists and other nonreligious people are firm believers in the separation of church and state, but many still draw the line in a case such as this.  Was the removal of the roadside memorial justified?  Has the AHA gone too far?  Is this case making atheists appear cold and unemotional?  Or does the law need to remain consistent regardless of the reason for the cross?

While most would agree that a religious display is inappropriate on public/government property, many will also say that it’s acceptable for a specified amount of time, to help a family grieve.

I feel like there should be a middle ground here.  Any of my regular readers knows that I’m a steadfast supporter of church/state separation.  After all, that’s what this whole site is about.  But roadside crosses (or other theist symbols) don’t bother me.  I think they’re necessary for a religious family to memorialize the spot where something tragic happened and grieve over it.  It’s healthy.  I suppose an argument could be made that the memorial should be secular in nature, but I disagree.  We’re all human after all, and if it needs to be a religious symbol in order for the healing to begin, then so be it.  But I do believe that time and size limits need to be set.  Two years for a 5-foot tall cross is long enough, and 5 feet is too high.  There’s room for compromise here, and a modestly sized six-month memorial isn’t going to do anyone any harm in my opinion.

Like the title suggests, this is an issue that has divided the nonreligious community (if the thousands of social media comments I’ve seen are any indication).  Feel free to share your opinion in the comments here.  I’d like to know what the DividedUnderGod community thinks of this one.

UPDATE:  I reached out via Twitter to David Silverman, President of American Atheists to get his view on the issue.  Unsurprisingly, this was his response:

BUT… when I asked a follow-up question presenting a legal change, Dave responded a little differently:

THIS LEADS ME TO CONCLUDE… that if cooler heads prevail and we can sit down with lawmakers to discuss compromise, some of the conflicts between the religious and nonreligious can be avoided and resolved with everyone’s needs in mind.

Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

8 thoughts on “AHA Forces Removal of Memorial Cross — Atheist Community Divided

  1. From a psychological perspective, I think this is unhealthy for the family to have to relive whatever memory of the actual incident they have created for themselves. I don’t see this as morning, I see this as a sort of masochism (probably not the right word).

    From a legal standpoint it should probably have gone a long time ago. Where I live, there is a church with a cross in every square mile of inhabited space. Plenty of reinforcement for Christians.

    Morally, I appeal back to my first statement, I think it is unhealthy for the family, so I would prefer they find a better way to remember than reliving the accident. How about she remember her son instead. I don’t think there is a moral or compassion argument that could support keeping this monument on the side of a road, especially for two years.

  2. Time and size limits. . .makes sense. A family nearby lost someone in an accident recently and put up crosses, photos and candles. After about a month we were glad to see it all go. Here’s one question I have: why would someone want a “memorial” on the spot where their loved one died? A constant reminder and open wound. Wouldn’t they have a gravesite to go to? Thanks for posting something that isn’t rabidly anti-faith. This just asks for thoughtful common sense.

  3. I’m not a huge fan of such memorials in general, regardless of their religious overtones. That being said, if we are going to allow them, there needs to be a reasonable time limit. 6 months to a year should suffice. After that, it is needless clutter. No memorial is bringing your loved one back. Time to move on.

  4. I’m a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, but the idea that no religious symbols can appear on publicly owned land is misguided and incorrect. We should not bar /any-and-all/ groups from displaying on public grounds, we should just make sure that /all/ groups have equal and fair access to display on public grounds. I’m an atheist and a very outspoken one, but in this case, atheists are wrong.

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