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House bill defends UHP crosses

Lawmaker says they are ‘symbol of death, not a religious symbol’

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While a Utah state flag blows in the wind, Utah Highway Patrol troopers raise a memorial cross into place in 2002 near the UHP building in Murray for trooper Joseph S. "Joey" Brumett. Brumett was killed in 1992.

While a Utah state flag blows in the wind, Utah Highway Patrol troopers raise a memorial cross into place in 2002 near the UHP building in Murray for trooper Joseph S. “Joey” Brumett. Brumett was killed in 1992.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

A cross is not always a cross.

In the case of memorials erected to honor fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers, the white crosses serve to remind people of the trooper's service, not to advertise Christianity, said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

To reinforce that, he is sponsoring HCR4, which unanimously passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Friday, to support the UHP's use of the crosses. He also wants to send a message to American Atheists Inc., which filed a federal lawsuit against the state in December claiming that the crosses are religious symbols on public land and therefore violate the First Amendment's church-state separation clause.

Additionally, the crosses are used in roadside memorials around the country for anyone killed in an accident. They are also common in battlefields and graveyards to honor the dead.

"It has become a symbol of remembrance," Ray said of the white cross. "They are not just used for officers."

To clarify that the crosses are more than a symbol of Christianity, Ray inserted an amendment into the bill saying that the crosses are "a symbol of death, and not a religious symbol." However, he also said that the separation of church and state does not mean that people are restricted from being open about their personal beliefs.

"It's a sad day in America when you are sued for conveying your beliefs," he said.

Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said that while he did not oppose their use, he did not see how religion could be separated from the crosses. Instead, he preferred that the resolution support either the use of a non-secular symbol or any religious symbol, whether it's a cross, a Star of David or nothing.

"We can't deny that the cross is a religious symbol, even if over the years it has become accepted as a symbol of death," Litvack said. "When I drive past a cross, I know that somebody died there, but it makes me think of Christianity."

Todd Richardson, a Davis County sheriff's deputy, said that the crosses are important to all officers, not just the Utah Highway Patrol.

"Every day men and women in law enforcement put on a badge and gun and go out in all types of weather to go out and make Utah a safer place," he said. "Sometimes, the unthinkable happens and they give the ultimate sacrifice. . . . This is something all of law enforcement looks at with great respect."


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com