SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to allow the Utah Department of Transportation to erect highway safety signs honoring fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers.
"Not only do we recognize these troopers, it reminds people what's going on on these highways," said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, of the signage. The signs include the name of a fallen trooper, and reminders to drive safely and to wear seat belts.
The signs do not replace the 14 roadside crosses the Utah Highway Patrol Association recently removed from public property because a federal court found them an unconstitutional display of religious imagery. The Utah Highway Patrol Association is refurbishing the markers and intends to put them up on private property.
In 2005, American Atheists Inc. sued the UHP and the UHPA claiming the crosses were an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A panel of three appeals court judges reversed the federal court ruling in Utah and ruled in favor of New Jersey-based American Atheists in August 2010, requiring the state to remove the crosses. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by the state, allowing the appellate ruling to stand.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, gave grudging support to HB182, noting her disappointment over the "insulting removal" of the roadside crosses that were the focus of the legal challenge.
"This would be the second best choice. I appreciate the fact we at least have this option," she said.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said he believes the new signs will be a "better reminder of the sacrifice our troopers give."
The names of fallen troopers were hard to read on the crosses, he said.
"I'm also appreciative we have three branches of government, one of which (found) what we had was not constitutionally sound," Romero said.
The signs will be erected at a cost of about $20,000, Adams said.