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Appellate court to consider constitutionality of roadside cross displays

.- The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering a legal case claiming that the erection of roadside crosses in Utah in memory of fallen state troopers is unconstitutional.

American Atheists are the plaintiffs in the case, while Col. Scott Duncan, head of the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Highway Patrol Association, originates with a cross erected by the private Utah Highway Patrol Association to memorialize a state trooper killed near the Utah-Nevada border in 1974. A 12-foot tall white cross with a biographical plaque was placed near the highway site of his killing.

The patrol association later decided to erect crosses for all their fallen comrades, with 14 crosses having been placed at the side of public highways across the state.

American Atheists is challenging the practice, claiming constitutional violations.

The Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on Friday filed an amicus brief on behalf of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, arguing that the crosses do not violate the constitution because they are an expression of private speech.

The Becket Fund filed the brief on behalf of the other states because of their concern that a ruling against the practice would violate their citizens’ right of free speech.

“If this Court ignores the distinction between private and government speech, these private memorials will certainly be subject to attack,” the brief states.

"American Atheists argue that the crosses violate the Establishment Clause because they are a religious symbol. Our amicus brief seeks to change the debate," Luke Goodrich, legal counsel at the Becket Fund, said in a press release. "It is irrelevant whether the cross is a religious symbol or a secular symbol.  In this case, the cross is a form of private speech. And when the government allows private speech on public property, it cannot discriminate between secular and religious speech and muzzle only the religious."

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