Indiana Gov. Mike Pence voiced his support for a controversial state sculpture honoring veterans on Tuesday, following an atheist advocacy group’s call for the statue with a cross to be removed.
“I fully support the decision by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to accept the sculpture commissioned by local citizens to honor all who have fallen in service to our country,” the Republican official said in a press release. “The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion.”
The controversial cross sits at the foot of a statue that is 8 feet tall. The sculpture also features a bald eagle and other national and state symbols to honor veterans.
In August, the Freedom of Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources claiming that the cross’s presence on the sculpture in a state park violates citizens’ right to the separation of church and state, according to The Blaze.
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The statue is set to have a permanent spot in the Whitewater memorial State Park, but Dan Barker, a co-president of the atheist group, has called the sculpture “un-American.”
Pence said he plans to continue defending the sculpture in response to its opposition.
“So long as I am governor, I will defend the right of Hoosiers to display this sculpture in Whitewater Memorial State Park as a lasting tribute to the service and sacrifice of all who have worn the uniform of the United States,” Pence said in a statement.
Barker said that the Freedom of Religion Foundation is still planning its next steps in response to the governor and the statue.
“We think it’s wrong, but you can’t just say we’re going to sue,” he said. “There’s so many ducks that have to be in a row … the picture we saw of it has a prominent Christian cross on it and that’s not the way to honor our veterans.”
He added that he thinks the statue does not honor atheist veterans like it should, though some individuals say that the cross on the sculpture does not mean it only honors Christian soldiers.
Despite complaints from the atheist group, numerous veterans have joined a Facebook group in support of the sculpture.