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Measure advances on public memorials

HB330 would allow almost any symbol for the fallen

SHARE Measure advances on public memorials

A Star of David, white cross or Buddhist swastika may be allowed on government property as a memorial for fallen soldiers or police officers.

With HB330, in fact, almost any religious or secular symbol honoring a person who died in combat or the line of duty could be erected on public land if the legislative body overseeing it — a city council, county commission or the Utah Legislature — donated the use of the property.

The bill was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Senate Workforce Services, Community and Economic Development Committee.

Allowing such memorials on public property is in line with the opinions of 90 percent of Utahns, according to a new Dan Jones & Associates poll. That survey, conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV, also found that 90 percent favored allowing such memorials while only 7 percent either somewhat or strongly oppose them.

The survey of 415 Utahns was conducted last week and has a 5 percent margin of error.

The sponsor of HB330, Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said the numbers do not surprise him. The bill does not restrict any type of symbol or specify any memorial, nor does it require a symbol for every fallen officer or soldier.

"It is in recognition of what people value, for those who give so much for the community and country," Harper said. "When you give the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the community or this country, you deserve some recognition."

The bill is being run in response to a federal lawsuit filed by American Atheists Inc. seeking to have memorial crosses already erected in memory of fallen UHP troopers removed from state property. The group says the crosses, many of which are in the rights-of-way of state highways, violate the concept of separation of church and state.

The Utah Highway Patrol has argued that the crosses, by honoring officers who have died while serving, transcend religion because they recognize the sacrifice rather than promote the religion. The memorials are also chosen by the family of each officer, and while they have all been crosses so far, they can be any symbol the family wants.

A resolution specifically supporting the white crosses, HCR4, already has passed the House and is currently waiting for debate on the Senate floor. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has previously said his resolution supports the crosses as a way to honor the officers.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com