Atheist Group Asks For Removal Of Veterans Monument Adorned With Cross
By Mike Perleberg
(Union County, Ind.) – A battle of religious freedom and separation of church and state is revolving around a woodcarving recently placed at the Whitewater Memorial State Park along Whitewater Lake in Union County.
State leaders are rallying in defense of the new feature at the park, established in 1949 to honor World War II veterans. The sculpture shows a bald eagle perched above a soldier on the right, an Indiana state flag on the left, and a cross at the base in the center. It is inscribed with “All gave some. Some gave all.”
The cross in particular has drawn the ire of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent the letter to Cameron Clark, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of a local complainant who objects to putting religious objects on state-owned property.
“We have no objection to veterans’ memorials,” Markert wrote in the letter dated August 20. “Our objection is to the message of endorsement of Christianity over other religions and religion over nonreligion. Additionally, the Christian-only memorial will send a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not Jewish, other non-Christian, and nonreligious soldiers.”
A quarter of American military personnel identify themselves as agnostic or have no religious preference, Markert claimed by citing a June 2010 study by an atheist organization.
The foundation asks that the sculpture either be removed or the cross removed or replaced with a secular symbol to honor all veterans. A written response from Clark was also requested.
On Tuesday, Clark and Indiana Governor Mike Pence both voiced support of keeping the carving in place.
“The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion. The Constitutions of our state and nation more than allow the placement of this Hoosier artist’s sculpture on public land. 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.
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The governor’s office says the sculpture was donated by the local community at no taxpayer expense. It had been created at the Liberty Festival a couple months earlier.
State Representative Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) said in a statement that he applauds the governor.
“This was a great community project and a wonderful way to recognize all the sacrifices made by our veterans, the fallen heroes of this great country,” McMillin said. “This park was dedicated in 1949 to the veterans of World War II, and this statue is an extension of that dedication. It is important that we remember the sacrifices made by those who paid the ultimate price for our country, and this memorial, as it stands, is our community’s way of never forgetting the price they paid.”
The politicians are not the only ones voicing their support for leaving the woodcarving in place. A Facebook group titled “Keep the Cross on the Carving at Whitewater Memorial State Park” has more than 1,100 members as of Wednesday.
The Whitewater Memorial State Park rumpus isn’t the first time the Freedom from Religion Foundation has lodged a complaint in the Brookville area. In 2011 and again this past March, the organization has written letters to Franklin County Commissioners demanding that a Nativity scene at the Franklin County Courthouse around Christmastime either be removed from public property or altered to include secular holiday decorations.