Cross sparks controversy at Belle Plaine Veterans Park

Controversy over cross on veterans memorial

BELLE PLAINE, Minn. - As the sun disappeared over Belle Plaine Wednesday evening, it’s what disappeared at the Veterans Park that had people talking.

"There are a lot of upset people,” said Joe Burmeister, a local resident and veteran. "It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in a long time was come up and cut this thing off.”

Burmeister held the cross that used to be connected to a silhouette statue of a veteran kneeling at a grave of a fallen comrade.

It all started several months ago when city officials say someone filed a police report and complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin. The foundation told the city the cross had to go since it was on public property.

"This isn't just a constitutional violation. It sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians as if only Christian veterans are important,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor with Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Gaylor told KARE 11 her organization isn't against veteran memorials.

“We don’t object to veteran memorials and we don't object to Christian veteran memorials, we just think Christian veteran memorials must be on private property,” she said.

The city, which worked with the local VFW to come up with a solution, reluctantly removed the cross Tuesday.

"To me, it’s another attack on small town America -- our freedoms,” said Belle Plaine Mayor Christopher Meyer.

Meyer says the city had no choice but to take down the cross, much like the city did a few months ago, when the city removed a nativity scene from public property after the same group threatened litigation.

Belle Plaine isn’t the only small town dealing with this issue. Recently, Long Praire donated land to the local VFW because a cross was on public property and Wadena removed a nativity scene.

"It’s sad. It’s really sad,” said veteran Larry Ruehling, who serves as Belle Plaine’s VFW commander.

Ruehling hopes national outrage will bring the cross back to the park. But Gaylor said the constitution is clear, crosses are not allowed on public property. 

"We were veterans first and religion second,” he said. ”This is one way to respect veterans.”

© 2017 KARE-TV


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