Despite the protests of a national atheist group, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana is defending a privately funded statue in a public park that honors veterans and prominently displays a 14-inch cross. Pence has said that he fully supports this act by “local citizens to honor all who have fallen in service to our country.”
Meanwhile, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has raised concerns that “the overall display promotes Christianity” and sends “a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers.” It is not entirely clear, however, whether the Freedom From Religion Foundation will pursue legal action in an effort to remove the cross-adorned statue.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the statue, an 8-foot-tall wooden chainsaw-carving that features a soldier standing at a cross, is located at Whitewater Memorial State Park in Liberty, Indiana and has been approved and installed by the Department of Natural Resources.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s attorney, Rebecca Markert, had the following to say about the statue:
"No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity."
Governor Mike Pence, as seen on IN.gov, responded by stating the following:
"I fully support the decision by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to accept the sculpture commissioned by local citizens to honor all who have fallen in service to our country. The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion. The Constitutions of our state and nation more than allow the placement of this Hoosier artist’s sculpture on public land. So long as I am Governor, I will defend the right of Hoosiers to display this sculpture in Whitewater Memorial State Park as a lasting tribute to the service and sacrifice of all who have worn the uniform of the United States.”
Legal precedent, it would seem, appears to be on the governor’s side too.
In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a case involving the governmental rejection of a requested monument display in a public park in Pleasant Grove City, in which 11 permanent, privately donated displays, including the Ten Commandments, already existed, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the government was entitled to lend its approval to a private message.
The Supreme Court further explained the necessity of government’s freedom to speak when it opined the following:
“Indeed, it is not easy to imagine how government could function if it lacked this freedom. ‘If every citizen were to have a right to insist that no one paid by public funds express a view with which he disagreed, debate over issues of great concern to the public would be limited to those in the private sector, and the process of government as we know it radically transformed.’ Keller v. State Bar of Cal., 496 U.S. 1, 12-13, 110 S. Ct. 2228, 110 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1990). See also Johanns, 544 U.S., at 574, 125 S. Ct. 2055, 161 L. Ed. 2d 896 (Souter, J., dissenting) (‘To govern, government has to say something, and a First Amendment heckler's veto of any forced contribution to raising the government's voice in the 'marketplace of ideas' would be out of the question’ (footnote omitted)).
“A government entity may exercise this same freedom to express its views when it receives assistance from private sources for the purpose of delivering a government-controlled message. See id., at 562, 125 S. Ct. 2055, 161 L. Ed. 2d 896 (opinion of the Court) (where the government controls the message, ‘it is not precluded from relying on the government-speech doctrine merely because it solicits assistance from nongovernmental sources’); Rosenberger, supra, at 833, 115 S. Ct. 2510, 132 L. Ed. 2d 700 (a government entity may ‘regulate the content of what is or is not expressed . . . when it enlists private entities to convey its own message’).
“This does not mean that there are no restraints on government speech. For example, government speech must comport with the Establishment Clause. The involvement of public officials in advocacy may be limited by law, regulation, or practice. And of course, a government entity is ultimately ‘accountable to the electorate and the political process for its advocacy.’ Southworth, 529 U.S., at 235, 120 S. Ct. 1346, 146 L. Ed. 2d 193. ‘If the citizenry objects, newly elected officials later could espouse some different or contrary position.’ Ibid.”