LAKE ELSINORE (CBSLA.com) — A national atheist organization may have won the battle over a Lake Elsinore roadside memorial that features a cross erected by a mother in honor of her late son.
An attorney with the American Humanist Association says the Latin cross on the side of Lake Street at the foot of the Interstate 15 exit ramp – which is city property – is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of church and state.
The monument has been on display since May 2012 after a vehicle struck and killed 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, the Press-Enterprise reported.
According to the group, the city removed the cross in December after repeated requests, but reinstated it two days later with a deadline of removal on Jan. 6.
A letter (PDF) dated March 4, 2014, from Monica Miller, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, cited past federal cases that have recognized the Latin cross as a religious symbol and calls for Lake Elsinore officials to follow suit.
“A Latin cross is a Christian symbol, which has no place on government property,” said Miller. “Past court cases have long recognized that religious symbols serving as memorials on government property are unconstitutional.”
While AnnMarie Devaney pledged to remove the cross by 3 p.m. Thursday, she told reporters she still didn’t understand why the group so vehemently opposed the memorial.
“I think they’re just looking for something to complain about, really, and I think that it’s petty,” Devaney said. “The cross is there because my son’s Christian, and not for any other reason. I don’t know why they’re doing this, but it makes me sad.”
The city is expected to dedicate a memorial for Devaney at McVicker Canyon Park later this month, according to the Press-Enterprise.
CBS2’s Tom Wait spoke with an emotional AnnMarie Devaney before she removed the cross.
“Isn’t it enough that we already lost him? And now we have to remove the cross?,” she said.
She told Wait the cross was a source of comfort, not just for her, but others who knew her son.
The American Humanist Association – whose masthead slogan reads “Good Without A God” – had previously and successfully fought plans for a veterans monument depicting a kneeling soldier flanked by multiple images of crosses and the Star of David.
On February 27, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the memorial, which was to be erected at Lake Elsinore’s minor league baseball team stadium was unconstitutional.