KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Christian Examiner) – Citizens in tiny Knoxville, Iowa, had a message for city council members after the town received a warning letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, telling the city government it had to remove a temporary patriotic display in a town park because it featured a white cross like those at the American cemetery at Normandy.
The message was simple – don't, or else.
The temporary silhouette display, located in a city park and placed by private citizens, featured a soldier kneeling in front of a cross-shaped grave marker. That, Americans United (AU) said in the letter, makes the display an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity on the part of the city of Knoxville.
AU is a litigious, Washington, D.C.-based activist group that claims to protect religious liberty. It often files lawsuits against small communities who have to make the choice between expending limited resources in court rather than on city services.
In this case, some members of the city council did not listen to citizen protests, and on Nov. 2, Breitbart.com reported, the Knoxville City Council voted to remove the silhouette marker by a vote of 3-2.
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Council members April Verwers, Carolyn Formanek, and David Roozeboom said they voted to remove the display rather than fight the well-funded church-state group. The town's mayor, Brian Hatch, also reportedly agreed with the decision because the town could not afford to defend a lawsuit.
On Nov. 3 – the day after the council voted to remove the temporary memorial – townspeople sent Verwers and Formanek packing by wide margins. Roozeboom had already decided to vacate his seat.
In its letter citing a litany of liberal court decisions, AU noted, "The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government bodies from promoting religion on public land, including through the display of the Latin cross – 'the preeminent symbol of Christianity.'"
Prior to the vote, nearly 2,000 white crosses appeared in yards throughout the city – a sign of support for the makeshift memorial, meant temporarily to mark the place a permanent veterans' memorial will be placed in the future. The new memorial, once fundraising is complete, will feature a "soldier's cross," of a pair of boots sitting in front of a downward facing rifle with a helmet on top.