The Welcome Home Soldier Monument in Monroe County, Iowa, is under fire because it includes 21 marble crosses and sits on county land, but the founder refuses to take the crosses down even if it means going to jail (video below).
"I have such a love for those that gave us our freedom and the older I get the more I just love what they've done for us," Jim Keller, the founder of the monument, told WHO-TV.
The monument also includes 100 American flags and a 200-foot marble wall that pays tribute to more than 1,500 veterans.
Local voters recently passed a measure to maintain the monument grounds with 45 percent of a hotel-motel tax.
However, the money has not been spent, in part because of a letter that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent the Monroe County supervisors. The letter said that the marble crosses on seven acres of the county's land and the government money allocated to maintain the religious symbols violate the First Amendment.
Americans United wants the crosses removed and the money returned.
"The county kept the land and by Iowa code we can let the soldier`s monument use that for this and we did," Monroe County Board Supervisor John Hughes told the news station.
"The County is on board," Hughes added. "We went ahead and did this the legal way and it is done the correct way."
Americans United received one complaint, which caused it to investigate the monument.
"I will not take down the crosses," Keller said. "Personally, I will not do it. I will go to jail before I ever do that."
Monroe County Attorney John Pabst told Albia Newspapers:
It’s my understanding that the county never gave money to the Welcome Home Soldier committee. I know for a fact that all of the crosses were paid for privately. It’s not unlike Arlington National Cemetery, where there are thousands of Latin crosses as well as Star of Davids and markers with the Muslim Crescent. I always thought veterans had the right to place whatever religious symbol they wanted on their memorials.
However, Americans United is not questioning who originally paid for the crosses, but rather the crosses sitting on county land and being maintained by county taxes.