In an oral ruling on Tuesday, federal courts agreed to halt the construction of a war memorial at a city-owned baseball stadium in Lake Elsinore, California, under charges that the memorial violates constitutional separation of church and state.
The lawsuit was filed in May by the American Humanist Association (AHA), a church-state separatist advocacy group. The group had sent a letter to the city council requesting that they reconsider plans for the memorial, which would cost $50,000 in taxpayer money. AHA was concerned about the placement of a Christian cross in the memorial, which the group considered to be a constitutional transgression. The letter was ignored, and the project approved by the city in November 2012.
“Despite the clearly sectarian motivation for spending public money—and a warning from the city’s attorney that the monument as approved is likely unconstitutional—the city council unanimously voted to approve the monument anyway, saying that they were ‘taking a stand’ for Christianity and against the separation of church and state,” AHA stated in a press release.
William Burgess, a lawyer with the Appignani Humanist Legal center, said at the hearing, “it is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country’s veterans.”
Representatives for the city argued that the memorial is historical, not religious. Lake Elsinore officials have been given the option to appeal the decision, but have chosen to wait, since the case’s presiding U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson issued an oral ruling as opposed to a written order and opinion.
“We’re going to review his opinion to determine what his reasoning is and then we will look at our options as to whether or not we want to proceed in the lower court or immediately take it up on appeal,” said Kevin Snider, the attorney representing Lake Elsinore.