Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Aug. 29
Religious war sparked outside home of Padres' Minor League affiliate
Lake Elsinore officials told single cross on veterans memorial is inappropriate, change design to multiple crosses
As expected by many in the Lake Elsinore community in southern Riverside, a lawsuit has been filed to block the funding of a veterans memorial outside the city-owned stadium that serves as the home of the Storm, a San Diego Padres' minor league affiliate.
The monument, to be placed at the baseball park's front gate, was originally proposed to depict the silhouette of a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross, with the accompanying caption "Freedom is Never Free."
"The city has clearly violated the First Amendment by unnecessarily choosing a divisively religious means of honoring our veterans," said William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, who is representing the plaintiff American Humanist Association. “In addition, the California constitution prohibits any governmental funding whatsoever for religious purposes, including religious monuments.”
Despite concerns having been voiced as early as last November about the lawsuit, a panel selected by the city chose to move forward with the original design, which was approved with about $50,000 in city funds going toward its construction and installation.
In the text of the complaint, available here, detailed minutes of city council meetings are recounted, including direct advice from the city attorney that the cross design would be a clear violation of constitutional law.
In response, the memorial was changed to continue to feature the large cross in the foreground, but added a single Star of David and many more crosses as background imagery. The design faced similar complaints and concerns about litigation, but was approved unanimously by the council.
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