On Tuesday the Tenth Circuit federal appeals court in Denver heard arguments concerning an atheist group’s challenge against roadside cross memorials for fallen Utah state troopers.
The group American Atheists argued that the roadside crosses erected by the private and secular Utah Highway Patrol Association to memorialize deceased state troopers are unconstitutional. The association funded and constructed the crosses, which stand on public highway roadsides near where the troopers died in the line of duty.
American Atheists claims that only secular symbols should be used.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief on behalf of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma, which could be directly affected by the court decision.
Luke Goodrich, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, argued as a designated Special Assistant Attorney General for Colorado.
He argued in court that the crosses were private speech. He alleged that the plaintiffs were trying to use government power to silence grieving families.
“This case is not about religion; it is about expression,” Goodrich said, according to a Becket Fund press release.
The judges expressed concern that Utah’s policy could prevent troopers’ families from displaying the symbols of other religions such as Stars of David.
Goodrich later commented on this concern, saying that the court can order Utah to allow families to choose other religious or non-religious symbols.
The court said the case tests the boundaries of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which set a standard for deciding when permanent monuments are or are not government speech.