by Nate Kellum
Two years ago, a tragedy struck a
Southern California family. 19 year-old Anthony Vincent Devaney was hit by a
vehicle and killed as he crossed a street near a freeway exit ramp in Lake
Several months later, his mother, Ann
Marie, stuck wooden crosses on the side of the road near the spot where he died,
as way of honoring Anthony’s memory. We’ve all seen similar memorials. They’re as common-place as road signs, scattered
alongside our streets and highways, reminding us of lives lost due to car
accidents and of our duty to drive safely.
For Ann Marie Devaney, this memorial is a
simple gesture of love.
But when this memorial came to attention
of the American Humanist Association, they reacted with an atheistic version of
road rage. Contacting the various city officials and threatening a lawsuit,
they demanded the crosses be removed “immediately” from the right-of-way.
Lake Elsinore took the threat seriously. The
group’s demand letter came a week after a U.S. District Court judge ruled in
favor of a legal challenge brought by AHA against Lake Elsinore’s proposed
veterans memorial. The initial plans for the monument depicted a soldier
kneeling in front of crosses and Stars of David.
Unwilling to risk another defeat, the
city buckled, and asked the family to remove their crosses from that meaningful
Though the city failed them, fellow
citizens did not. Where the two crosses were removed, even more have sprung up
in their place, put there by others who understand their constitutional rights
and want to support this family they don’t know personally during their time of
For their part, and as way of
consolation, Lake Elsinore did offer the family a more permanent memorial. A
few weeks after the roadside crosses came down, a tree was planted and a plaque
was installed in a local park, paid for by the city. The plaque makes no
mention of religion.
And this is an important distinction. Apparently,
AHA doesn’t have a beef with anyone remembering Anthony; the issue is remembering
him with a cross, a symbol linked to the Christian faith.
There are other types of roadside
memorials, like the trendy “ghost bike,” consisting of an old
bicycle painted white, placed and chained in spot where a cyclist has died,
informing all who see it that the deceased was a cyclist. AHA does not have an
on-going campaign to remove ghost bikes. They only want to eliminate the
The roadside cross, at least for some,
indicates that the person who died there was a Christian. This was true of
Anthony Devaney. But if someone can be remembered as a cyclist, why can’t
Anthony be remembered as a Christian? “It’s so petty and sad that they have to
complain over removing a cross,” said Ann Marie Devaney, while on site to
remove the crosses memorializing her son’s death. “It’s his personal preference that he was a Christian.
What’s wrong with having a cross up?”
Indeed, what is wrong with having a cross
up? Because crosses are universally associated with honoring the dead, an
atheist or some other potential objector is not deprived of any right by merely
noticing its presence—even assuming a driver can observe it via peripheral
vision while travelling 70 miles per hour. This is particularly true when the
cross is purchased and placed by a private citizen, like Ann Marie Devaney, because
the speech is her own, and not that of the government.
It appears our friends at AHA are
cross-phobes. What the American Humanist Association and their ilk are trying
to do—with some success—is purge all reminders of faith from public view.
As Christians, we must be vigilant and stand
up to these cross bullies, encouraging our city leaders to do the same. Like
everyone else, Christians have a rightful place in the public square. We retain
the freedom to live—and to die—as Christians.