In 2012, the City Council of Lake Elsinore, California unanimously approved a $50,000 veterans’ monument to be placed in front of Diamond Stadium, a city-owned minor league baseball stadium (a mockup of which is below):
That’s a soldier kneeling in front of several Christian crosses… and one Jewish star. Because only Christians have died in our country’s wars.
And one Jew.
And no one else, ever.
The city council’s lawyer warned board members that this would be illegal, but they didn’t listen.
In July of 2013, a U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in the case, essentially saying the monument was illegal. It stopped the memorial from being built temporarily, but it wasn’t a final decision on its constitutionality.
Earlier this year, the same judge, after hearing both sides present their cases in court, issued a much more definitive ruling: the monument violated the law.
The Court concludes that Lake Elsinore’s veterans’ memorial was designed without a predominantly secular purpose, and that its principal effect is to advance religion. Therefore, the memorial design violates the Lemon test. Because the memorial design violates Lemon, the Court concludes that the memorial violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and California’s Establishment and No Preference Clauses.
Judge Stephen Wilson based his conclusion about how the monument’s “principal effect” was to advance religion by quoting the City Council members themselves:
… there is strong evidence that at the October 23, 2012 Lake Elsinore City Council meeting, multiple City Council members expressed a predominantly religious interest in keeping the cross on the memorial. Responding to members of the community who expressed legal concerns about including the cross, Mayor Pro Tem Hickman said “I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because of the First Amendment. Okay. It really is a shame that our society, to me, is leaning that way.”… Later in resisting a motion to continue a vote on the memorial until other designs were considered, Mr. Hickman added: “I’m not going to sit here and wait for people to denigrate my beliefs, okay… Let them just present their designs. We don’t have to change it.”… Council Member Melendez added that “it is a sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something that we are forced to hide.”… And in response to the motion to continue the vote, she later stated: “You know what… I think at some point you have to take a stand. I’m sorry. I just think you do. And I’m going to make a substitute motion that we approve this project as is and where it is.”
Which brings us to what’s happening this week in Lake Elsinore.
A Veterans Memorial will finally be unveiled this weekend outside Diamond Stadium… but it won’t have any religious references:
The City’s new Veterans Memorial includes two monument areas in front of the entrance of the Diamond Stadium. The upper memorial area is a large, custom premium black granite monument etched with the depiction of a solider in front of a fallen soldier’s battlefield grave. The grave is marked by the rifle, helmet, dog tags and the boots of a fallen soldier. This has become a well-known symbol to respect and honor those lost in battle and is a practice that dates back to the American Civil War.
In an article about the unveiling, my favorite passage has to be this one:
After forming a committee to come up with a design, the City Council approved a design that included Christian crosses and Stars of David, despite opposition. Two residents successfully sued the city to block the design as a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.
Though a nonprofit legal group defended the city at no cost, the city wound up having to pay plaintiffs’ attorneys fees of $200,000, dwarfing the $60,000 budgeted for the project.
That legal group was Pacific Justice Institute, which prides itself on working “diligently, without charge, to provide… clients with all the legal support they need.”
Keep that in mind the next time a group like Alliance Defending Freedom says they’ll represent a school district or other group for free. They won’t charge their own fees, but if you lose the case (which you probably will), you’re on your own when it comes to paying for the other side’s legal bills.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)