A group has come forward to complain about a roadside memorial in Salem, Oregon, stating it represents an illegal union between the city government and Christianity (photo below).
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is petitioning the local government in Salem to remove a 4-foot cross that was installed on city land, claiming it's a clear violation of the separation between church and state, according to KATU.
The cross was put up at the site of a fatal car accident; the victim's children installed the memorial in 2005 and have maintained it ever since. The Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that they have no legal basis to keep it there since it is on public land.
"This is not the same as a very recent car accident where somebody put some flowers or whatever or even a cross on the side of the road a week or two," said Cheryl Kolbe, the Portland area chapter president for FFRF. "The cross dramatically conveys a message of governmental support for Christianity whatever the intention of the display may be."
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Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said he will review the situation after receiving the formal complaint from FFRF, which is reportedly the first such complaint he's received about the memorial. The group says it was approached by a local citizen who objected to the placement of the cross.
"The city shouldn't be spending scarce public resources on the maintenance of a sectarian agenda," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement released on the organization's website. "Many taxpayers in Salem would object to their hard-earned money going toward sprucing up crosses."
Bennett said the memorial was created and maintained by private citizens but did not dispute the fact that it was on public land. Neither he nor KATU could confirm the identity of the original car crash victim nor the identities of the people who put up the memorial.
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"It's a new complaint and we'll take a look at it," said Bennett to KATU. "And we'll take a look at our, at their constitutional rights of free speech, our ability to allow memorials on public right-of-way, what the statutes say."
Kolbe insists that she has no issue with the cross itself, but rather its placement on land belonging to the public. She hopes the party responsible will move it to private land.
"We’ll have to discuss that (possible) decision with our local resident complainant and see what they’d like to do next," wrote Rebecca Markert, managing staff attorney FFRF in an email. "We’ll wait to see what the city decides to do.
"The best remedy for this situation is for the memorial cross to be moved to private property where it is more appropriately displayed. We believe that once the city reviews the case law surrounding these crosses, they will agree."