Last October, at a cemetery in the town of Monument, Colorado a Boy Scout named Michael Carlson decided to honor veterans by installing a memorial marking their sacrifices. It was part of a project designed to earn Eagle Scout honors and required the help of local donors to foot the nearly $50,000 bill and the help of the city.
“Michael saw veterans were underrepresented here. He didn’t go to the government and say ‘Fix this.’ He decided to fix it himself and asked the government to help. … His leadership and patriotism has bettered our community,” Mayor Don Wilson said. The Town of Monument aided the project by removing the grass around the flagpole and digging up the land for the memorial.
So the city helped Michael install this monument on public property.
In general, there’s nothing wrong with that, and the 16-year-old Michael deserves credit for getting it done. The problem is that the memorial was just an homage to Jesus.
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.
Not only is that a lie, it’s an obvious promotion of religion. The city might as well put up another monument giving a big middle finger to Jews, Muslims, and atheists.
Near that memorial, by the way, is the infamous image of a battlefield cross, which also links Christianity and patriotism.
Now the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is urging the city to get rid of the religious advertising. In a letter to Mayor Wilson sent on February 23, MRFF made it clear this was unconstitutional. It was also a problem because the memorial used imagery from the Armed Forces which aren’t allowed to be used to promote any kind of religious beliefs.
Rather than file a lawsuit, MRFF warned the city about the problems, but also made it clear that a legal solution wasn’t out of the question.
It is simply unconstitutional for your Town to be using taxpayer funds to promote any religious faith, as herein, Christianity.
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.
Accordingly, Mayor Wilson, MRFF demands that you immediately remedy these noxious unconstitutional and DoD regulation violations by either expeditiously removing that memorial or altering its current unconstitutional Christian proselytizing message to comply with the United States Constitution’s First Amendment (No Establishment Clause) and DoD regulations regarding trademark and licensing mandates.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a similar letter two days later:
The Scout’s desire to honor veterans by creating a memorial is admirable. His efforts, however, have been poorly served by adults — both in the Scouts and in the Town — who should have been aware that the monument would be unconstitutional for the government to own and display. The Town of Monument and its cemetery serve citizens of many faiths and none. 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.
Even though the monument was created by a private citizen and with private funds, there is no way the monument can be characterized as anything other than government speech.
MRFF’s letter asked the mayor to respond in 7 days. That didn’t happen. Weinstein told me yesterday a lawsuit is forthcoming:
MRFF gave the Town of Monument, Colorado 7 business days to get back to us as to how they plan to fix this wretched, unconstitutional dumpster fire. The deadline has passed. MRFF is presently preparing to file a Federal lawsuit against the Town in Federal District Court in Denver, Colorado. MRFF is also in direct discussions with the Pentagon regarding this veterans memorial’s wholly illegal violation of DoD trademark licensing regulations by illicitly hijacking the logos of the United States military branches in a further unconstitutional gambit/scheme to get the American military to endorse and validate the fundamentalist Christian nationalist message of supremacy, dominance, exclusivity and exceptionalism of that memorial monument.
It’s also possible the town is making plans to avoid that possibility. According to the Colorado Springs Indy, Town Manager Mike Foreman says “We’re working on that right now,” regarding the complaint.
Whatever happens, it’s incredible that in the two years Michael worked on this project, no one knew or had the heart to tell him he was making a huge mistake. There were so many ways to do this kind of project properly — on private property or without the overt religious promotion — that could have made it problem-free. Instead, everyone just assumed the blatant disrespect of non-Christian veterans would be perfectly fine. It says a lot about the community that they didn’t see a problem with this until MRFF stepped in.
Now, instead of an Eagle Scout project that benefits the community, Michael (with the tacit support of the city) has created a constitutional mess that could easily have been avoided had he or anyone else done the least bit of research. The adults around him let him down.
(Image via Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Thanks to Brian for the link)