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Federal Judge Grants American Humanist Association Motion to Stop Lake Elsinore Religious War Memorial

AHA Says Use of Public Property Violates Constitutional Church-State Separation Mandate

For Immediate Release

Contact: Bill Burgess, Brian Magee, bmagee@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 ext. 105

(Los Angeles, CA, July 16, 2013) — The American Humanist Association (AHA) is pleased that a federal judge yesterday blocked the City of Lake Elsinore, CA, from erecting on public property a monument depicting a soldier kneeling in prayer before a Christian cross. The ruling by US District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson follows the motion for a preliminary injunction against the plan to erect the monument AHA attorneys argued is unconstitutional.

The ruling can be found here.

The AHA filed suit in federal court May 31, 2013, to stop the Lake Elsinore City Council from funding and constructing the display at the city-owned baseball stadium. The city council approved the project in November 2012, despite constitutional concerns. The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter at that time to the city council explaining that the cross monument would violate the separation of church and state required by the Constitution, but no reply was received. The city approved the design and allocated approximately $50,000 of city funds for construction and installation.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country’s veterans,” said William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center participating at yesterday’s hearing. “We are pleased that Judge Wilson has seen the necessary merit in our case to stop the religious memorial from being erected on public grounds.”

Officials from the City of Lake Elsinore have the option to appeal today’s decision.

The suit contains details about the times several city officials and supporters of the proposed monument publicly declared the Christian symbolism it includes was at least part of the reason they supported its construction. Despite the clearly sectarian motivation for spending public money—and a warning from the city’s attorney that the monument as approved is likely unconstitutional—the city council unanimously voted to approve the monument anyway, saying that they were “taking a stand” for Christianity and against the separation of church and state.

The lawsuit, American Humanist Association et al. v. City of Lake Elsinore, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. A copy of the complaint is available here.

###

The American Humanist Association (americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington D.C., its work is extended through more than 170 local chapters and affiliates across the United States. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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