Despite the risk of a potential legal challenge, the City of Lake Elsinore is one-step closer to erecting a veterans monument on city property that would display a religious symbol.
Friday, a subcommittee comprised of city officials, local leaders and veterans, agreed to submit to City Council a final design proposal for a granite Veterans Memorial slated to be erected at the entrance of the city-owned Diamond Stadium.
The city gave the go-ahead earlier this year to pay for a memorial, but first asked that a subcommittee be formed to come up with a design and location for the monument.
Coming into Friday’s meeting, the subcommittee had honed in on a design by Sun City Granite Monuments and Memorials that depicted a soldier kneeling in front of a cross, but after discussion it was agreed the Star of David should also be added to the project.
According to Justin Carlson, management analyst for the city, during Friday’s meeting 17 people addressed the subcommittee, with just four rallying for a design modification.
“There was strong support for the design. In addition, a petition was submitted with 75 signatures that support the cross design,” Carlson said.
The City Council must now decide whether to approve or deny the design featuring the two religious symbols. The large-scale monument is expected to cost city taxpayers approximately $46,000.
Legal challenges have been mounted across the country regarding the display of religious symbols in public spaces, which raise questions about the meaning of the First Amendment’s guarantee that government will not endorse or prohibit the practice of religion.
Another very recent beef in Maryland involves a veterans monument in the shape of a cross. In that instance, the opposition is questioning whether the religious symbol excludes sacrifices made by non-Christian soldiers.
Lake Elsinore resident John Larsen has followed the local subcommittee’s design progress on the proposed monument and said he supports veterans and believes Lake Elsinore is overdue for a memorial.
But Larsen questioned whether the religious symbolism puts the city at risk financially due to potential legal exposure.
“I feel the monument should be done and I respect the hell out of those who have served,” Larsen said, but he called for the removal of the religious symbols.
“It’s contentious and divided, and it’s going to cost the city money.”
However, Larsen conceded that during Friday’s meeting there was a strong message coming from the veterans who were on hand to support the religious symbolism: “They are willing to defend and die for it.”