Memorial crosses for Utah troopers must be moved by end of February
The Utah Highway Patrol Association has signed a settlement agreement that sets a time frame for removing 12-foot-high crosses intended to memorialize state troopers killed in the line of duty.
"The UHPA will make immediate arrangements for the removal of the cross-shaped memorials. Four of the memorials shall be removed no later than Jan. 15, an additional two shall be removed no later than Jan. 29, an additional two no later than Feb. 12 and the balance no later than Feb. 26," states the agreement, which was awaiting the signature of U.S. District Judge David Sam on Friday afternoon.
The association is still reeling from an October decision by U.S. Supreme Court justices, who declined to hear the contentious First Amendment case over the appropriateness of the memorials on public land. The decision means that 10 of the 14 white crosses that currently sit on public land, either outside UHP offices or alongside a highway, must come down or be moved to private property.
All 14 of the crosses, whether on public or private lands, must have the UHP insignia removed. The state also has agreed to pay $388,000 in attorney's fees.
Friday's settlement agreement is the latest legal turn in a long battle over the display of religious imagery on public land between the UHPA and American Atheists Inc., the organization represented by Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard.
Frank Mylar, an attorney who represents the association, has said the association immediately removed UHP logos following the high court's decision. Crosses on private property are in compliance with the court's decision after the Utah beehive logo was painted out, Mylar said. Each cross also now has a taped "reminder" that it is a privately funded memorial.
Barnard said Friday he is pleased a settlement agreement is finally in place.
"It is good to have this litigation at an end. These troopers deserve to be honored. They can be and should be honored with memorials that are universal and do not emphasize one religion," Barnard said. "Trooper memorials can be on state property; they simply cannot be such an overwhelming religious design."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had pushed the high court to take on the case, arguing that the highway crosses should be displayed.
"With two simple lines the highway crosses remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made by troopers while trying to protect us," Shurtleff has said. "Before now, no other court has ever held that memorial crosses establish a religion. The crosses only establish a trooper died in the line of duty."
The case began when American Atheists and three of its Utah members sued the state in 2005 for allowing the association to incorporate the UHP logo on the crosses and place some of them on public property.
The trooper's name, rank and badge number are printed on a 6-foot crossbar, and a large depiction of the UHP's beehive symbol initially had hung below where the two bars met. The first cross was erected in 1998 on private property and 13 others were added later, most of them on public property. The memorials are privately funded and owned by the UHPA, while the state owns the public land on which some of them sit.
Support was needed from nine justices to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, following a series of failed appeals by the association to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Only Justice Clarence Thomas supported hearing the appeal, a position he detailed in a 19-page dissent.
Thomas wrote that he saw the case as an "opportunity to provide clarity to an Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles," citing diverging case law concerning the constitutional language that protects against government establishing or endorsing a religion.
Where the crosses are and who they honor
William J. Antoniewicz • died 1974, cross is near rest stop in Echo Canyon on Interstate 80
Joseph S. Brumett III • 1992, and Robert B. Hutchings, 1976 • UHP field office in Murray
Daniel W. Harris • 1982, Parleys Canyon on I-80, Milepost 132
Randy K. Ingram • 1994, Interstate 15 near Nephi, Milepost 207
Ray L. Pierson • 1978, and Armond A. Luke, 1959 • intersection of Highway 89 and State Road 20, Garfield County
Dennis L. Lund • 1993, rest stop on Interstate 70, about 8 miles west of State Road 6 junction
George D. Rees • 1960, and Thomas S. Rettberg, 2000 • I-15 rest stop in Farmington, Milepost 327
Doyle R. Thorne • 1994, quarter-mile east of Currant Creek Junction on Highway 40, Duchesne County
George E. Van Wagenen • 1931, and John R. Winn, 1971 • Main Street in Lehi next to railroad museum
Charles Warren • 1994, I-15 in Springville, Milepost 262