Officials want UHP crosses case reheard

Published: Thursday, Sept. 16 2010 1:12 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A number of state officials are asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-consider its decision on the use of crosses to commemorate fallen officers from the Utah Highway Patrol.

In a petition filed Wednesday, the Attorney General's Office asked that all active judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals bench hear arguments on the case. The petition was filed on behalf of state officials, including Col. Scott Duncan, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, and John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation. It is anticipated that the Utah Highway Patrol Association will file a similar request Thursday.

Petitioners are asking for a re-hearing and believe the crosses were not chosen as a religious symbol, but merely to "convey the message of death, honor, sacrifice, and safety." It clarifies that no religious ceremony has ever been used when the memorials are placed.

"The memorials were designed to honor the trooper, remind drivers of the sacrifice the trooper made for the state and its citizens, and encourage safe conduct on the roadways," the petition states.

The Attorney General's Office is asking for a re-hearing because the three-judge panel that initially heard the case "failed to analyze this case based upon the objective observer who is knowledgeable about the purpose, context, and history of the memorials."

The panel ruled in August that the 14 white, roadside crosses, that currently memorialize the deaths of Utah Highway Patrol troopers, are an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion on public lands.

"We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion," the court wrote in its decision.

In 2005, the Texas-based group American Atheists, Inc., sued the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private entity aimed at supporting troopers and their families, to get the crosses taken off state lands.

Brian Barnard, an attorney for the American Atheists, said the arguments in the petition are similar to those already made before the court.

"There are no new arguments," Barnard said. "The arguments they're making in here are essentially the same arguments they made to the three-judge panel."

He said there is a screening process to determine which cases the court will re-hear and that he will not file a response on behalf of American Atheists unless the court feels the request for a re-hearing has some merits and warrants a response.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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