Americans United joined forces with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in late February to urge officials in a Colorado town to remove a veterans’ memorial containing Christian iconography from a public cemetery.
A Boy Scout in the town of Monument created and raised funds for the monument as part of an Eagle Scout project late last year. It contains the phrase “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul, the other died for your freedom. We honor those who made freedom a reality.”
Local residents notified Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the MRFF, who wrote a letter to Monument Mayor Don Wilson, advising him to modify the marker or move it to private land.
“The obviously and incontrovertibly sectarian, Christian proselytizing message of that Veterans Memorial would be absolutely fine in a private cemetery, but in a publicly maintained and controlled cemetery, as in this instant matter, it is quite unconstitutional and illegal,” Weinstein wrote.
A few days later, Americans United sent its own letter to town officials.
“The Town of Monument and its cemetery serve citizens of many faiths and none,” observed AU attorneys in the letter. “Displaying a message that indicates that the Town is affiliated with a Christian belief unmistakably sends the message that the Town favors those who follow its preferred religion and that members of other faiths and nonbelievers will be treated differently. It is also profoundly disrespectful to the Town’s fallen non-Christian veterans and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Both MRFF and Americans United noted that the scout who planned and executed the project was not to blame. Colorado Springs Indy, a weekly newspaper, noted that Andy Meyer, a New Mexico resident who supports MRFF and is a former scoutmaster, pointed out that Eagle Scout projects are reviewed by adults. Meyer said one of them should have flagged this project as problematic.
“The project clearly was one sided and didn’t take into account all the many faiths or atheists of the great men and women who sacrificed their entire life to serve the United States of America and are buried there.” Meyer said. “As a scoutmaster for over 20 years, I have mentored over 100 Eagle Scout projects. This should have been stopped in the early process of this youth’s idea.”
Wilson told Colorado Springs Indy that he is reviewing the matter, but he failed to respond to MRFF’s deadline. The group was preparing to file a lawsuit as this issue of Church & State went to press.