Supreme Court sidesteps issue of roadside crosses

October 31, 2011

The Supreme Court says it will not reopen a case in which a lower
court ruled that highway crosses memorializing Utah state troopers are
unconstitutional.

The court decision October 31 was harshly
criticized by Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone dissenter. He said it
"rejects an opportunity to provide clarity" to an area of church-state
law that is "in shambles."

Dave Silverman, president of Ameri­can
Atheists, which filed the suit in 2005, said he hopes the court's
announcement will bring the case to an end and lead to an alternative
way of honoring troopers who died in the line of duty.

"Erecting
divisive religious icons that violate the very Constitution the fallen
troopers had sworn to uphold is not the way to honor those troopers who
gave the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of their state," he said.

The
conservative Alliance Defense Fund, which asked the court to consider
the case, was disappointed. "Justice is not well served when unhappy
atheists can use the law to mow down memorial crosses and renew the
suffering for the survivors," said ADF senior counsel Byron Babione.

The
Utah Highway Patrol Associa­tion had erected 12-foot white crosses to
honor fallen officers since 1998. The atheist group lost its first legal
challenge, but the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year
that the memorials "have the impermissible effect of conveying to the
reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise
endorses a certain religion."  —RNS