Humanists Applaud American Atheists v. Duncan Decision


Sept. 1, 2010

Reprinted from an American Humanist Association Aug. 18, 2010 press release .

The American Humanist Association (AHA) expressed enthusiastic approval today of the U.S. Court of Appeal's ruling that a series of crosses memorializing fallen officers along a Utah highway is a constitutional violation, a ruling that is consistent with a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the AHA in the case in 2008. Said the court of the crosses, "We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the State prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion. They therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution."

"This is an important victory in the continued fight for the separation of church and state," said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. "Governmental endorsement of Christianity, even in the form of an officer's memorial, isn't appropriate on our public highways. There are other ways to honor fallen officers, and the court's recognition of this clearly strengthens secular government."

In the friend-of-the-court-brief, the AHA informed the court that "while government should honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, the government must do so in ways that do not promote religion." The brief argued that even "assuming that these crosses were erected for the secular purpose of memorializing fallen UHP officers, the crosses nonetheless primarily convey the Christian message of Jesus' death and resurrection."

"The American Humanist Association is very gratified by the decision of the Tenth Circuit holding that Utah's permitting the display of Christian crosses on public property constituted an endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. "Secular memorials would have effectively conveyed the message of remembrance and gratitude for the fallen UHP officers and would have avoided the risk of religious controversy overshadowing the memorials' message."