Group demands USMC Camp Pendleton remove cross


SAN DIEGO, Calif. — An atheist group is demanding that a cross at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton be removed.

On Veterans Day, several Marines erected a 13-foot cross in honor of the Marines killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines were replacing the original cross put up in 2003 that was burned down in a brush fire in 2007.

Staff Sgt. Justin Rettenberger said the cross is dedicated to the memory of four Marines killed in battle, according to the LA Times. "We wanted them all to know that they'll always be in our hearts, that they'll never be forgotten," he said. "All great warriors."

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) said the cross is unconstitutional. In a blog post, the MAAF said, "we still have continuing exploitation of military service and veterans to promote Christian privilege." The placement of the cross, the MAAF contends, "sends a message of exclusion rather than inclusion on this secular holiday."

In defense of the cross, the American Center for Law and Justice has urged the Marines to keep the cross in place.

"The Constitution does not prohibit honoring fallen troops through the use of a historic symbol merely because that symbol also carries religious significance. In fact, the Constitution forbids excluding religion from every aspect of public life, precisely the goal of the MAAF and other atheist groups," the ACLJ wrote in a letter to Camp Pendleton's commanding officer.

"Given the memorial's history and context, it is clear that it is not intended to proselytize for any faith," the letter states. "It is meant to honor and commemorate the sacrifice of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice."

The Marine Corps is reviewing the issue.

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