A woman whose son died in a traffic accident was forced to remove the crosses from his roadside memorial in Southern California after local atheists complained that the symbols violated the constitution.
The American Humanist Association of Riverside County, an atheist group, contended that crosses were a “serious constitutional violation” in a letter to the local city council, reports NBC4. The council conceded that the large, handmade plywood crosses violated the separation of church and state.
"The city's selective enforcement of its signage ordinance and its display of the Christian cross on government property violates the state and federal Constitutions, and must therefore be removed immediately," the letter states. The crosses would have to be removed by mid-March, the council told the resident who complained.
Anthony Devaney was killed at the age of 19 by a teen driving an SUV as he was crossing the street near a freeway.
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His mother, Ann Marie Devaney, tearfully removed the crosses white crosses she had placed near the spot where he was struck after the decision came Thursday.
"It's like I'm losing my son again, pretty much," Devaney said. "It hurts when you lose a child."
"It's so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross," she said. "It's his personal preference that he was Christian. What's wrong with having a cross up?"
But the dispute may not have come to an end. Immediately after she removed them, another group came and replaced the crosses with six more.
"It just really got to me," said Emily Johnson. "I have kids. I just can't believe how insensitive people are."
The mother of the driver who struck Devaney said she thinks the crosses should stay.
"That's their memorial, that's where they go to grieve," said Laurie Howanec.
But the atheist group maintains that the crosses cannot legally be allowed to stay up on city property.
“It should be taken down now because they’ve had it up for a long time and ever since it was put up, it really has been unconstitutional,” said Monica Miller, an attorney at the American Humanist Association’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.