Beliefnet News

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

(RNS) A church-state watchdog group has joined Hindu and Jewish organizations in arguing that a Utah court erred in ruling that a highway cross memorializing a fallen state trooper is a “secular symbol of death.”
A friend-of-the-court brief was filed Wednesday (Aug. 6) in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and several other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Hindu American Foundation.
“When used as a burial marker, the cross does not signify death in the abstract,” they argued. “Instead it connotes the deceased’s Christian faith.”
Last November ruling, U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled that the Utah Highway Patrol Association could continue to erect 12-foot crosses, as it has for 14 troopers.
“The cross is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity,” said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United. “For the government to claim that the cross is a secular symbol is deeply offensive and betrays a poor understanding of religion and our Constitution.”
At the time of last year’s decision, a state trooper’s widow said she was pleased the symbol could stand.
“We made this sacrifice along with him, and we get to have this symbol of what happened,” Andrea Augenstein, widow of Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Harris, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The groups that filed the brief said they understood the “noble”
impulse to honor troopers but argued it does not “justify sacrificing the Establishment Clause and its animating principle — that the political and the religious are both better served when kept separate.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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