Complaints from a national watchdog group has forced the city of Belle Plaine, MN to remove a cross from a war memorial in a public park. The cross was removed on Tuesday due to the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The memorial featured a slab of black granite with the names of fallen soldiers engraved. Next to the slab sat the silhouette of a soldier kneeling before a cross. The slab remains, but the solider and cross have been removed.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation told reporters that the cross promoted exclusivity in the park and violated the United States Constitution.
“It’s important for any memorial on government property to be inclusive and not exclusive,” she said. “There are many atheists in foxholes. We’re not a Christian country, and Belle Plaine is not a Christian city.”
The group first raised concerns about the cross in October 2016. They claimed that the cross violated the United States’ constitutional separation of Church and State because the park is government owned property. City Attorney Robert Vose replied to the group stating that the soldier and cross on the monument were not installed or approved by the city but instead “constitutes speech or expression by the Belle Plaine Veterans Club.”
The veterans club initiated the park’s use as a memorial site at least 15 years ago.
Albert Koepp is the treasurer of the veterans club and is one of many military residents that are disappointed with the decision.
“I wish it would have stayed,” he said. “I guess it was a mutual agreement so the city wouldn’t get sued over it.”
City Attorney Robert Vose has declined to comment on the removal of the cross.