Parties in Utah memorial-crosses case submit settlement

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY — Final settlement papers in a lawsuit over 14 roadside crosses honoring Utah troopers killed in the line of duty have been submitted to the courts and are awaiting the approval of a federal judge, court records show.

On Jan. 13, Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard submitted the settlement agreement forcing the removal of the crosses from Utah highways to U.S. District Judge David Sam. Under the agreement, the crosses must come down by Feb. 26. It’s not clear when Sam might sign the papers.

The American Atheists Inc. and three of its Utah members sued the state and the Utah Highway Patrol Association over the crosses in 2005, claiming the symbols represented a state endorsement of Christianity.

A three-judge panel from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver agreed in 2010 and ordered the crosses removed. State attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices declined to hear the case.

“It’s good to have this litigation at an end,” the atheists’ attorney, Brian Barnard, told the Associated Press in an e-mail. “These troopers deserve to be honored. They can and should be honored with memorials that are universal and do not emphasize one religion.”

Most of the crosses have already been removed from public land, and efforts are being made to relocate the monuments to private property near the locations where the officers were killed, association attorney, Frank Mylar said yesterday.

“I think we’ve have locations for all but one,” Mylar said. “These are highway patrolmen. Whether the state can acknowledge it or not, we certainly want the public to see they died somewhere close to the highway.”

The association acknowledges that in some instances, the placement of the crosses will not be ideal.

The 12-foot-high crosses were first erected in 1998 by the association, a private organization. Of the 14 crosses, 11 are on state land and three were placed on private property but still can be seen by those traveling Utah highways.

The two men who launched the memorial project have said they selected the cross because its image can simultaneously convey a message of death, remembrance, honor, gratitude and sacrifice. The memorials were also affixed with the Highway Patrol’s brown and yellow beehive logo and the names of the officers killed.

Under the agreement, the state will pay the atheists $388,050 for attorneys’ fees. Court papers say the amount must be approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert.

The settlement also requires the removal of the UHP logo — something the association, which maintains the memorials, did in November. At the time, the association also added a disclaimer to each cross stating that the structures were not meant to represent a state endorsement of religion.

Mylar said the crosses would be refurbished with fresh paint and a yet-to-be determined new logo that represents the Highway Patrol but isn’t an official state logo. The disclaimers will likely be kept, he said. It’s not clear how soon the new memorials might be erected.

“We hope there won’t be further litigation,” Mylar said. “We certainly believe that if they are all on private land and are going to use a private logo that it shouldn’t violate the First Amendment.”

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