March 8, 2014

​Judge Rejects California City’s Religious War Memorial

BY KIMBERLY WINSTON©2014 Religion News Service

A California federal judge has rejected a
proposed religious memorial at a publicly owned baseball stadium as a violation
of both federal and state laws.

On February 27, U.S. District Judge Stephen V.
Wilson of California’s Central District ruled that a granite monument depicting
a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross lacked “a secular purpose” and has
“the unconstitutional effect” of endorsing religion over non-religion.

The decision came nine months after a lawsuit was
filed by the American Humanist Association, a national organization of
nonbelievers. The memorial was planned for city property in Lake Elsinore,
California, a community of about 53,000 people in Southern California’s
Riverside County.

The monument was designed in 2012 by a 22-member
committee appointed by Lake Elsinore’s City Council and included its mayor,
members of a local veterans group and a representative of the city’s minor
league baseball team, the Storm.

When the design was presented to the City Council
for review, some residents objected to the memorial’s religious nature. Members
of the City Council spoke in support of it, specifically citing its Christian
nature as suitable for public property.

Councilwoman Melissa Melendez, a veteran, cited
America as “a Christian nation” and proposed the city go ahead with the
memorial to test its legality.

“I think at some point you have to take a stand,”
she said, according to court documents. Melendez is no longer on the council.

David Niose, director of AHA’s Appignani Humanist
Legal Center, supported the judge’s decision, which is open to appeal.

“I hope that if
members of the city council still want to honor veterans, they will move
forward with a monument design that represents everyone who fought for our
freedoms,” he said in a statement.