Memorial Day crosses up, down, and up again in Georgia town

by Gregory Tomlin, |
White crosses in Hiram, Ga., commemorating those killed in American wars, were pulled down for two days before they were set in place again. Citizens complained that the town was kowtowing to a single complaint. | WSB-TV/Screen Capture

HIRAM, Ga. (Christian Examiner) – Sometimes citizens have to take a stand against those who demand tolerance, but are intolerant themselves.

That was the sentiment of most citizens in the small community of Hiram, Ga., after city leaders in the town of 3,600 planted 79 white crosses on city property to commemorate the soldiers from the county who died in combat, only to take them up the next day after receiving a single complaint that they were offensive to non-Christians.

The Washington Times reported May 24 that the crosses, posted on city property next to a highway and with the permission of the town's mayor, were pulled up after an "unnamed resident" called the city manager to ask if the display was appropriate.

"They asked were all those fallen soldiers Christian, and the answer to that was no, they obviously weren't," City Manager Barry Atkinson told Atlanta ABC News affiliate WSB-TV. "It opened our eyes that we missed something here, and we immediately took corrective action."

The caller, apparently civil in his questioning, told Atkinson he would be willing to make a cash donation to build a new veteran's memorial – presumably one that did not include crosses.

Hiram Mayor Teresa Philyaw, who said she was sad to see the crosses come down, claimed the presence of the crosses was "never about religion." They were meant only to honor the soldiers who died.

"The cross is a 'rest in peace' symbol to me," Philyaw said. "We just really would love to think this person will understand that it was never a religious thing, it was just to honor these people who died for him and for all of us."

According to Hiram City Council records, city leaders heard from multiple residents who wanted the crosses reinstated May 25. One of those was Tommy Dingler, the father of a 19-year soldier killed in Iraq.

Dingler told the council "a cross has been used for fallen soldiers from the time of the Red Coats, Patriotes, Yankees, Rebels – they all used it," FOX News affiliate WAGA-TV reported. He asked that the crosses be reinstated, as did others who suggested the council was being bullied into removing the memorial.

During the meeting, Mayor Philyaw gave a brief statement on the meaning of Memorial Day and explained what the crosses – which mirror those in the American cemetery on the cliffs of Omaha Beach in Normandy – were meant to convey.

The mayor and the council also met in executive session to discuss potential lawsuits if the crosses should be erected again and, afterwards, voted unanimously to replace the memorial in the same location. The memorial will remain in place through May 31.

While some lawsuits have been filed to remove cross memorials from public land, such as the Mt. Soledad Memorial near San Diego and the Mojave Desert Cross, few cases actually deal with religious representations on individual grave markers. In 2009 and in 2014, rumors circulated on the Internet that the American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit to remove white Latin cross grave markers from military graves.

The ACLU said it had filed no such lawsuit, citing the personal freedom of family members to choose a grave marker befitting the fallen soldier's religious faith.