December 2015 Church & State | People & Events

A secular war memorial is set to be erected in an Iowa public park, but the fate of a controversial religious symbol on that property remains uncertain.

In August, Americans United asked officials in the town of Knoxville, a small city of about 7,000 south of Des Moines, to remove a display of a silhouetted soldier kneeling before a cross because it does not honor all veterans. The plywood cutout was made by a resident and placed in a public park without city leaders’ permission, but the town has chosen to leave the homemade display in place.

Americans United acted on behalf of an anonymous local resident who opposed the sectarian display in a public park. But once word got out about AU’s challenge to the religious symbol, proponents of the display decided to stage a rally. The Des Moines Register reported that about 2,000 people crammed into Young’s Park Aug. 30 to voice their opinion.

Despite the vocal opposition to the removal of the cross, the city council voted 3-2 November 2 to move the Christian “memorial” onto private property and replace it with a bronze Vietnam era-style statue comprised of a steel helmet, M16 rifle and military boots. The new statue, which was unveiled on Veterans Day, is what local veterans had originally intended for Young’s Park.

“Our original plan was to put this up, and we just didn’t have the money, and after the big controversy if you will, we figured we had some money,” AMVETS Post 63 Spokesman Don Zoutte told WHO, the NBC affiliate in Des Moines.

The situation in Knoxville remains tenuous. On Nov. 3, three new members were elected to the Knoxville City Council. Two of the council members who were ousted had voted to remove the religious symbol from the park. Supporters of the cross waged a campaign to unseat the council members who voted to remove it, and it remains unknown how the council will proceed with the new members.