From Melissa Underwood and

Families of Fallen Utah Highway Patrol Troopers Fight Atheist Group Over Roadside Cross Memorials

“If a national atheist organization has its way, a series of 12-foot-tall memorial crosses that adorn Utah ‘s highways will be taken down.

But not if the families of the people those crosses honor — state Highway Patrol troopers killed in the line of duty — have anything to say about it.

American Atheists Inc. has filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the 13 white, steel crosses represent the death of Jesus Christ and therefore violate the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits government establishment of religion.

But the families of the fallen heroes say otherwise. They say the crosses, which bear the names and badge numbers of the troopers, were built strictly as memorials.

“We’re being attacked personally for something we did to help us heal,” said Clint Pierson, whose father, Trooper Ray Lynn Pierson, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 1978.

“We put the crosses up as a memorial to the fallen officers.”

The Utah Highway Patrol Association defends the crosses, which have the Highway Patrol logo on them and have been erected on government land. It says they are secular symbols that both honor the troopers and remind speeding drivers to slow down.

“I think it’s ridiculous that a small group of offended atheists would seek to stop the family of slain troopers from honoring their loved ones as they see fit,” said Byron Babione, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the Utah Highway Patrol Association.

“These memorial crosses clearly do nothing more than honor fallen troopers and promote highway safety.”

The New Jersey-based American Atheists filed suit in 2005, arguing that the crosses symbolize Christianity and break state and federal laws against roadside memorials.

“They know very well that the cross is a Christian symbol,” said Dave Silverman, spokesman for the group. “They are breaking the law by putting up memorials for fallen heroes.”

The atheists support putting up memorials for fallen heroes, but oppose using a religious symbol to do so, Silverman said.

The crosses are not there to make a religious statement, but to serve as a memorial to the fallen officers, Pierson said.

“We were just trying to honor someone who gave their lives for the public good,” Pierson said.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private organization, designed and constructed the memorials with private funding in 1998. Private citizens can memorialize troopers who died in the line of duty, under Utah state law, Babione said.

“There’s nothing unconstitutional here because the memorials cost taxpayers nothing,” he said.

But Brian Barnard, a lawyer representing American Atheists, said the memorial is a Roman cross, which symbolizes Christianity.

“The use of those crosses constitutes and endorses Christianity,” Barnard said. “Although it’s an acknowledgement of the death of these troopers, it is also an endorsement of Christianity.”

Barnard said the highway association downplays the significance of the cross, claiming it is a secular symbol.

“There’s no question at all that these highway patrol troopers should be honored,” Barnard said. “We should all pause and thank them. But that can be done in a way that does not emphasize religion.”

The group is seeking the removal of the crosses and one dollar in monetary damages.

U.S. District Judge David Sam recently heard arguments in the case and will rule soon on the legality of the crosses.”



  1. mek1980 says:

    Tch! The very idea that Christianity would be represented here. It’s almost as if they’re trying to blatantly lie about the purpose of the crosses! And we all know that no Christian would ever lie.

  2. Chris says:

    What are you trying to say? Please make your comments clear and understandable.

  3. mek1980 says:

    I’m calling both you and them whiny; I’m calling you both liars for trying to claim that the crosses aren’t anything religious.

    Next time, I’ll make sure to really short words, and not use sarcasm or anything complicated so you can understand.

  4. Chris says:

    I did not write the article. Why are you so filled with hostility?

  5. mek1980 says:

    Guess I must be just evil. Couldn’t be the hostility directed at Atheists on a daily basis by Christians, could it? Why, yes it could!

    In easily understood terms – Galation, Ch. 6 v. 7: for whatsoever a man soweth, so shall he reap.

    I know you didn’t write it; by posting it and tacitly approving of it (rather easily seen in the context of your blog), you’re signing on to the same view. It’s whiny and dishonest.

  6. Chris says:

    What is your worldview? atheist it looks like…have you always been an atheist?

  7. Chris says:

    By the way there is nothing dishonest and whiny about memorializing these brave heroes.

  8. mek1980 says:

    I was, like everyone else, born an Atheist.

    And I agree that there is nothing bad about commemorating the officers; what is whiny and dishonest is trying to act like they aren’t Christian symbols and trying at the same time to claim persecution. Grief is not licence to do whatever you want.

  9. Chris says:

    The family might consider them memorials – who are you to judge them? Whether they are Christian symbols or memorials does not even matter. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. The officer’s families will win this battle. It’s just another ridiculous lawsuit by atheists.

  10. Chris says:

    So, if God does not exist then…

    Where did we come from? How did we get here?
    What has gone wrong with this world?
    How can we fix what is wrong with this world?

  11. mek1980 says:

    They’re on public land. The First Amendment comes into play, and whether you like it or not, the current jurisprudence on it says that public property may not be used to a religious purpose.

    Where did we come from?

    We don’t know yet. You’re actually using one of the most-discredited arguments; the God of The Gaps, which is simple the argument from ignorance. Just because we don’t know something yet doesn’t mean that “Goddidit!” can be written in.

    How did we get here?

    We evolved from other species of primates.

    What has gone wrong with this world? How can we fix what is wrong with this world?

    That isn’t a meaningful question unless you presuppose that there is some kind of “correct” way for the world to be outside what is naturally so, and physics, chemistry and biology seem to still be working. The question is example of petitio principii, aka begging the question; it assumes what it wishes to prove.

  12. Chris says:

    The deceased troopers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), which does not use the cross in its services. As memorials, the crosses are symbols of death. If you are familiar with Mormonism you know Mormons do not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where I live there are many crosses along the highways memorializing those who lost their lives in auto accidents.

    Actually, I am not making any argument at all. I am simply asking you a question. So, you do not have an answer as to where we came from. You believe that science will one day figure it out I suppose. Do you think there is a possibility an Intelligence created this world? If not, why? It is certainly an amazingly complex universe.

    As to how we got here you said we evolved from other species of primates. Where did the primates come from? Where is the evidence that man came from primates? I know many scientists are still examining this as a possibility but it is certainly far from a proven fact.

    By what has gone wrong with this world I am asking why there is so much bad stuff going on? Why do humans do such bad things? If we do not have God’s objective moral standards to live by then how do we know right from wrong? Do you believe there is any purpose to this life?

    Good to talk to you. Chris

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