I posted earlier this month about how a 16-year-old Boy Scout named Michael Carlson had come up with a project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout… that turned out to be more controversial than he ever imagined.
He installed a memorial to honor veterans at a cemetery in the town of Monument, Colorado. He even got local donors to give $50,000 toward the effort. Even the city helped him out by modifying the space for his memorial — by removing grass and digging up dirt around the area.
How could that be controversial in any way?
First, it was a Christian memorial that said “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American soldier.” It was an obvious promotion of religion aided by the city itself.
Second, the memorial used imagery from the Armed Forces — the logos at the top — which aren’t allowed when it comes to promoting any kind of religious beliefs.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation‘s Mikey Weinstein sent a letter to the city warning them about the legal problems and urging Mayor Don Wilson to remedy the situation by either removing the memorial or altering it to remove the Christian advertising and military emblems.
In the weeks since MRFF sent that letter, the city offered no formal response.
However, yesterday, their attorneys at the right-wing legal group First Liberty responded to Weinstein almost comically demanding that he apologize for criticizing a child… which he never did. (Weinstein’s focus was always on the city permitting a Christian memorial on public property.) And then they argued there was no legal problem whatsoever because it had all been magically resolved:
The Eagle Scout intended to use his voice to honor all brave men and women who have served in our armed forces. The memorial he created is privately designed, privately maintained, and located on private burial plots in Monument Cemetery.
Say what now? Private burial plots? Since when? That was a public cemetery. The implication was that the city had no intention of removing the memorial, but what the hell happened?
Pam Zubeck of the Colorado Springs Indy figured out what was going on, and it’s just unbelievable Christian privilege in action:
Monument Town Manager Mike Foreman says while the cemetery is owned by the town, five plots, including those at issue, are owned by the scout’s family. He says they purchased them on March 19, 2021, after MRFF raised the issue with the town.
Think about that. MRFF raised concerns about a religious monument on public property… so the city sold the family that precise bit of land. It’s a tiny island of private religious property in the middle of a public cemetery — all courtesy of the city and its right-wing Christian lawyers.
What about the military symbols?
As for the use of the Defense Department logos for branches of the military, which are trademarked and can’t be used without permission, Foreman says, “It’s on private property, so it’s not on the Town of Monument’s property, so it’s no longer an issue that the town of Monument is concerned about.”
He’s wrong. This is all very much an issue.
While cities can (and should!) take action to fix a problem, this one is legally dubious. Can Satanists buy their own plot of land in the cemetery too? What about atheists? I’m pretty sure a lot of people online could raise the funds to buy space on that property to erect a monument to honor all soldiers instead of just Christian ones. What’s the cost? Where’s the application?
Weinstein has a lot of questions, too. After he found out about the city’s response — by reading that article, no less — he responded with this statement:
This secret sale of public land was hurried through to completion just 10 days ago on March 19, 2021 in an effort by the Town of Monument and/or others associated with this sordid unconstitutional matter to escape the dire consequences as defendants in a surefire Federal lawsuit brought by MRFF and its MRFF client complainants, most of whom live in the Town of Monument and are also practicing Christians.
MRFF now demands to know from the Town of Monument:
(1) what the sales price for that land was (and it BETTER have been at fair market value)? and,
(2) who will be maintaining that now private Christian-proselytizing Veterans Memorial and its surrounding grounds as any such public maintenance funds from the Town of Monument would be strictly prohibited by inter alia the No Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution? and,
(3) what clearly observable measures will the Town of Monument be immediately employing to ensure that visitors to its cemetery will be able to have clarity that this sectarian Christian-proselytizing Veterans Memorial does NOT belong to the Town of Monument as it now resides on private property?
Lastly, the fact that this sectarian Christian-proselytizing Veterans Memorial is now “suddenly” situated on private land in NO WAY relieves the new owners (the Boy Scout’s family, presumably) from complying with the DoD regulations to immediately remove the logos of the military branches from this Veterans Memorial and seek trademark licensing approval from DoD. The chances that DoD will approve such a request are essentially zero as the DoD regs make it perfectly clear that use of its military branch logos cannot be used to further any partisan religious or political objectives.
The town of Monument made an unbelievably foolish decision to trust First Liberty, and they’re about to find out what happens when you work with subpar lawyers. They’re not out of all the legal jams. They should’ve just congratulated the boy scout on his initiative, then urged him to erect the memorial at a local church. Instead, they gave him all the tools he needed to do it on public property. And when they found out that was a problem, they may have given him special treatment to get out of the mess. If that’s the case, their legal problems are just getting started.
Weinstein says MRFF’s litigators will be in touch “soon” with First Liberty and local officials.
(Image via Military Religious Freedom Foundation)