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Utah highway crosses removed to be refurbished and placed on private land

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 6:37 p.m. MST

Brian Hutchings of Payson stands at the cross dedicated to his father at the UHP building in Murray on Nov. 16, 2011. The UHP Association has spent the past few weeks removing the 14 white memorials honoring fallen state troopers because of a court order.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will be without roadside crosses honoring fallen state troopers for a while.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association has spent the past few weeks removing the 14 white memorials in response to a court order prohibiting them on public land. The last two were to come down Friday, said Chad McWilliams, association president.

Also Friday, attorneys in the prolonged legal battle submitted a final settlement to U.S. District Court Judge David Sam. The agreement included dates through the end of February for having the 12-foot tall crosses removed.

All the markers, including the four on private property, were already taken down and will be refurbished and include a new logo, McWilliams said. The court ruled that the crosses could not include the UHP beehive insignia because it belongs to a government agency.

McWilliams said the association has secured private property for the crosses and intends to put them back up as soon as possible.

"For the families' sake, we need to get this moved on, get some closure to it and put this behind us," he said.

"Personally, I'd like to see them up before the end of next month. I think that's a realistic goal. We don't have a timeline, but it will be quick."

The refurbished markers, which will remain white crosses, will stay in the vicinity of where the officers were killed in the line of duty, McWilliams said, adding some will be as close as 20 feet to the former locations.

American Atheists Inc. sued the Utah Highway Patrol and the UHP association in 2005, claiming the crosses are an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A panel of three appeals courts judges reversed the federal court in Utah and ruled in favor of New Jersey-based American Atheists in August 2010, requiring the state to remove the crosses.

Utah obtained a reprieve while it appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing a split existed among lower courts on which legal test applies to the passive display of religious imagery. Because the high court declined to consider the case, the appeals court ruling remains in effect.

"It is good to have this litigation at an end," said Brian Barnard, attorney for American Atheists.

American Athiests, he said, repeatedly offered to discuss a settlement and alternatives.

"The state and UHPA declined to consider alternatives such that the memorials could remain in prominent places on state land," Barnard said. "There are other meaningful yet non-religious symbols that could have been used for these memorials."

The UHP Association never really considered doing away with the crosses, but sought to move them to private land after the court ruling.

According to the settlement agreement, the UHP and the UHPA must pay American Atheists $388,000 for attorneys fees, about $5,000 in court costs and $1 in damages.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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