Poll: Is Memorial Letter About Separation Or Strong-Arming?

Is a victory on principle really a victory if your opponent can't fight back?


The Freedom From Religion Foundation's (FFRF) letter to Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine demanding removal of religious symbols from a monument and city website has outraged citizens and veterans, but officials say they're not bending.

On Thursday, City Council President John Ward said the mayor's office has heard from hundreds of lawyers offering the city pro-bono legal support should the FFRF decide to take the issue to court. He said the city will do nothing unless the organization takes legal action to force the matter.

The spectre of a legal fight over the issue comes as Woonsocket citizens and offiicials are struggling to keep the city operating in the face of insolvency. Even with free legal counsel, the city still risks losing and owing damages if it goes to court.

As to the value of the FFRF argument, that a cross on the World War I monument in front of Fire Department Headquarters on Cumberland Street is illegal and must be removed, "I think it fails. It's a monument. There's nothing relgious about it," Ward said Thursday.

Half an hour after Tom Poole read about the FRFF's demands in The Woonsocket Call Tuesday, he began a daily vigil at the monument to support keeping it intact.

Not long after, retired RI Adjutant General Reginald Centracchio organized a rally to support keeping the monument as-is, to be held at the site Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

According to the FFRF's release on the issue, "...it's illegal for the city to display patently religious symbols and messages on city property. The website impermissibly demonstrates a preference for religion over nonreligion. The Latin cross at the fire station demonstrates Woonsocket’s preference for Christianity over other religions and nonreligion. Such government endorsements of religion runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution."

Comments about the matter on Woonsocket Patch articles have made many readers' stance on the legal debate clear, so we're asking today if a victory on principle is really a win if your opponent can't afford to argue back. Vote in our poll below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Dilberth May 02, 2012 at 01:25 AM
I'm definitely going to be there to have a spirited conversation with those in attendance. I only hope I can reach out and educate the ignorant mob of followers of a dead man.
la_mouffette May 02, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Jay, the Constitution supersedes the State constitutions, legally. However, there is still pretty solid ground for the city to stand on. Dilberth, as far as changing or moving this monument is concerned, the FFRF actually has a *much* weaker case than the ACLU did with the Cranston school. (Perhaps that's why it's not the ACLU contacting us.) The case in Cranston was clearly a violation of the separation of Church and State. They had one or two shaky but possible legal arguments, but no money to continue the legal fight to higher courts. Even so, a mural marked "school prayer"... that was a pretty obvious case! This, on the other hand, as a Christian soldier's surrogate grave marker, is not in the same category. Soldiers have the right to have religious symbols (or none) on their memorials, on public land. That, too, is covered by the separation of church and state-- remember, the government cannot endorse, enforce or prefer irreligion over religion and thus trample someone's civil rights. Additionally, the Mojave Cross case precedent means that even moving the monument (which is very old and fairly fragile) will probably not be necessary. At most, giving the tiny parcel of land to a private veterans' group will probably protect the city. This is good news, since it's old and fragile, and I'm sure we'd all hate to see a veteran's memorial damaged.
la_mouffette May 02, 2012 at 02:14 AM
I'm sorry to keep repeating myself, but I assume most people are scrolling past a lot of this long conversation. This is not a general war monument for all the soldiers killed in a certain war, Skept. It's for only four men. The latin cross was meant as the first man's grave marker in this country, because his body could not come home-- and grave markers, as I've said above, are an obvious example of the first amendment allowing religious symbols (stars of david, crosses, etc.) to be displayed on government owned property. There are countless thousands of them. Any level of government changing this display to make it "religiously neutral"-- which would be entirely appropriate to a general monument!-- might itself actually be a violation of the established separation of Church and State, by violating an individual soldier's first amendment rights. If the City of Woonsocket chose to do that, they could actually open themselves up to a lawsuit from the ACLU! Kind of amazing, how this all works. I don't know. We'll have to let the courts see, if it comes to that, I guess. The monument is old, and moving it may not be feasible. However, the Mohave Cross case might give legal precedent for another possible solution, as I've said.
marcD May 02, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Your arguments only prove the monuments religious significance. It is a religious symbol and as such should be moved to private property.
marcD May 02, 2012 at 05:50 AM
The real bullies are the ones pushing christian symbols on everyone and and calling them universal!
marcD May 02, 2012 at 05:52 AM
All veteran are not christians. Therefore, the monument does not honor all veterans.
marcD May 02, 2012 at 05:57 AM
FFRF doesn't care if you put crosses on private property. They are only interested in protecting Constitutional protection for all by keeping religion separate from government.
marcD May 02, 2012 at 06:05 AM
I don't speak for FFRF, but the complaint came from a local resident. Unfortunately, hostility toward any single person bringing such a complaint, prevents such people from making the complaint themselves. Nobody wants the death threats that come from so called christians when a complaint like this is made.
marcD May 02, 2012 at 06:16 AM
That's very funny. Are you a professional comic?
la_mouffette May 02, 2012 at 06:33 AM
He's a professional something, Marc. Please, don't consider him a representative of anyone but himself.
Mott T. Hoople May 02, 2012 at 12:39 PM
If you displayed a christian cross on your private property FFRF would not in any way challenge your right to do so. That is exactly the point of their complaint. Religious symbols of any kind, the star of David, the muslim crescent, the wiccan star circle, the christian cross or any other figure or symbol that would indicate a preference for that particular belief should not be allowed. The FFRF is not a hate group. It is simply applying the rules of the Constitution whenever it feels there is an encroachment of religion in the public sphere. I am an atheist and a member of FFRF and I would like to see a solution to this issue that is acceptable to everyone involved. If the city fathers decide the monument should be moved to avoid a legal battle I would gladly donate to a fund for that purpose as I am sure many would. Failing that, could the patch of ground where the memorial sits be annexed and sold to a pivate party? That would make all this go away with just a few signatures and the pro bono help offered by many attorneys. Peace!
Mott T. Hoople May 02, 2012 at 01:50 PM
You had better hope there are police at this rally. I'm sure any conversation you have will be "spirited" but don't go there thinking you will have reasoned and intelligent dialog with anyone of faith already whipped into a frenzy over the monument issue. Wear some body armor, you can hardly feel the punches!
Joe The Plumber May 02, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Just callin it as I see it Muffy.....
Jay Keith May 02, 2012 at 04:54 PM
I hope to see you all there later today! I do have one word for La Mouffette. I realize the Federal Law trumps State law, but if this Atheist group claims that the cross is an endorsement of religion over non-religion, then doesnt our state constitution, mentioning God as it does, actually favor religion over non-religion? So their argument over a cross on state propoerty is just a myth, they should be attacking ALL 50 STATES that mention God in their constitution. Not a broke town tat can't legally defend itself. In fact, the ACLU should be here right now protecting our civil liberities!!!!! They are trying to force the Atheist religion on us!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! This is meant to prove that this is frivilous demand from an out of touch group that has no business demanding ANYTHING of Woonsocket!!!
Jay Keith May 02, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I firmly believe that Atheists would be better served if when trying to prove God doesn't exist, they refrain from hate speech and bigotry. Such as Dilberth's "I can reach out and educate the ignorant mob of followers of a dead man." Ignorant mob huh? Kinda like the one we saw for the Reason Rally? A bunch of non-believers poking fun at Christianity. Oh the irony! Can we Christians please get a break from your the biggoted hate speech for a little while? I am sure you would server your country better by channeling your hatred toward the religion of Islam. You know, the one that stones gays and forces women into serfdom of men?? Again with the irony!!!!
MartinBaker May 02, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Atheists don't need to prove that god doesn't exist. God doesn't exist! People who believe god exists need to prove it. You can't prove that Zeus doesn't exist, does that make him real. No, just another imaginary deity. Do you believe in prayer? (wishful thinking directed at an imaginary deity). Do you believe that prayer has the power to cure? Have you ever heard of prayer healing an amputee? Why does god hate amputees?
Amy May 02, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Joe the plumber is on point
Mike Kind May 02, 2012 at 10:49 PM
For those with faith, no proof is necessary- for those without faith, no proof is enough. People who believe without proof exhibit the ultimate trust- their belief is not to be mocked by those who do not believe. That's the reason our forefathers guaranteed us religious freedom. To chastise others for their beliefs is, in my opinion, a most disagreable trait. Lastly, please tell me why our belief so troubles you, Mr. Baker.
Amy May 02, 2012 at 10:57 PM
We should not be judging atheists as they should not be judging other religions, don't force your crap on us we won't force our religion on you....period...the cross technically is a Christian symbol, everyone knows that, whether or not its being used as a gravesite marker or not...it is not bothering anyone
skeptic4321 May 03, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Amy, it is bothering someone- the person who contacted the FFRF. Joe, I am part of the biggest, fastest growing "minority" in America (~15% of the population) - the "nones"/non-theists. For the record, I consider myself an ignostic (look it up, you may learn something). I sling "insults" at all the imaginary friends humans have created over our existence, so don't get too proud that I insult only your "god." I guess I do "blaspheme" Jesus, since I am not sure he even existed (although he probably did, I am still not sure). It does sound kind of silly, though, the whole "immaculate conception" thing (an example of borrowed mythology). And, I don't believe in Satan, just like I don't believe in Zeus, Thor, or Jehovah. And it's not about public display of a cross- with respect to individuals, wear or publically display this ancient object of torture and execution- the government, however, should not be promoting religion over non-religion or Christianity over other religions. Consider who really started this (and most other church/state violations)- Christians (for now, perhaps Muslims in ~50 years)- Christians who I guess want to flaunt their religion and mythology and constantly put it in the faces of non-Christians- we are reacting to Christians most of the time, and when we do react, it is usually based on a concept (like church/state separation) that would equally protect Christians. And when we do react, as here, Christian love isn't so loving.
skeptic4321 May 03, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Mike, faith amounts to belief with out evidence. In my opinion, this is nothing to be proud of and it certainly should be criticized. Our Constitution does guarantee religious freedom- as well as a secular government. What we have here is government endorsing Christianity. If your adult brother told you he believed in Zeus or Santa Claus, would you not criticize him? And as far as Christian beliefs, the foundation itself is, in my opinion, immoral and horrible- human sacrifice. There are many other Christian "beliefs" borrowed from Mediterranean and Sumerian mythology that I find silly, but it's enough just to say I think human sacrifice is immoral. A god that thinks this is ok, especially if it's his or her "only child" that is being sacrificed is a terrible creature, certainly not worthy of worship. With that said, I invite all Christians to shed yourselves of the Bronze Age mythology that Christianity appears to be and join those of us in 2012 who are mentally free from the bondage of religion. If not, so be it, that is your right.
deb of see-attleboro May 03, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Skeptic: To varying degrees, you are wrong on so many points. Faith does not amount to belief without evidence. A Christian has evidence. The concept of faith for an unbeliever might be too difficult to understand. The simplest, least complicated way to explain faith is through the bumper sticker "Let go. Let God". To the believer, the existence of God is a given. As for your assertion that all religion is bondage, wrong again. Since I began my journey to grow my relationship with Jesus, I have never felt more free. Contrary to what many unbelievers may think, this is not a mindless obsession. It is an exhilarating and enlightening process.
la_mouffette May 03, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Like every individual, I can't speak for others, only myself. I respect everyone's freedom of conscience, and freedom to practice any (or no) religion. I respect the separation of Church and State. i think it's wise, and protects both parties. I just think this is very different from the Cranston prayer banner, and does not violate that separation. And I hope I've never been hateful in my comments here. I know I have not attacked or belittled anyone else's beliefs. I don't sling insults.
la_mouffette May 03, 2012 at 04:23 AM
I can't help but giggle. Joe, in trying to...irritate me, I guess?... chooses to call me a cute, harmless term of endearment, instead of looking up the meaning of my name, and making clever puns about stench. I mean, I even GAVE you a link to help get the ball rolling, Joe, but what can I say? You can't make the horse drink. Too bad, there's a lot of potential bullying material in there! ;)
MartinBaker May 03, 2012 at 04:31 AM
To believe without proof is called being gullible. Religion is superstition and mythology. I am sure that Hindu's believe in their gods too, as did the native americans. But I'm sure that yours is the TRUE god. All of the god stories can't be true, but they can all be false. And yes, religion is to be mocked by those who live in the real world, not some fantasy place. That is why we have freedom of speech and no blasphemy laws. Your belief does not trouble me, you can believe anything that you want. We just can't allow our government to support your delusions.
skeptic4321 May 04, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Deb, what am I wrong about? Faith does amount to belief without evidence- it is defined as such in several places in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:1 and others). Christian evidence- always boils down to the Bible- non-verifiable, edited, forged, hearsay. It is not evidence- it is wishful thinking. Religion, to me, is bondage- religions do not afford freedom to think on your own. "Freethought"/non-theism allows one to see the bible, religion, Christianity, etc., for what they are. The Bible, in my opinion, is a primitive book full of internal contradictions, mythology, racism, sexism, etc. - yet "believers" always try to make some non-sensical argument to make Christianity and the Bible "fit" into some defensible position. Sorry, I was a Christian most of my life, and I now think it is all bunk- mythology, superstition, magical thinking, wishful thinking, etc. If you consider mental bondage "exhilarting and enlightening" more power to you. Obviously, I don't see religion or Christianity that way.
la_mouffette May 04, 2012 at 01:51 AM
You're dead right there, Marc. And, it's not meant to. Our general veterans' monuments, around the city, are themed in a general way (statues of soldiers, etc) as befits the kind of monument that includes ALL the fallen veterans of a war. This monument honours only four Christian men, and is a surrogate gravestone for one whose body could not be brought home. It's a different situation.
deb of see-attleboro May 04, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Skeptic: Maybe "wrong" was too strong a word. Christian denominations, biblical scholars, theologians etc differ on the definition of faith, depending on context. I adhere to the principle that God is a given. Faith is what one relies on when God seems so distant. Since being baptized as an infant, I have been a Christian. The difference now is that I have made the decision to live a Christian life. I must confess, this is all new to me. Seeing the world through the eyes of a Christian, there is no question in my mind that true bondage is man-made and is not God's handiwork. Christianity has become a stabilizing force for me in this world that has apparently gone mad. In all honesty, I have not completely surrendered to the will of God. In many respects, I am still a stubborn and willful child. It may take until my last dying breath to completely surrender. And since statistics prove 1 out of 1 of us will die, I will get there. Only then will we be truly freed from bondage. Only God knows where we will go from there.
Bill Santagata May 07, 2012 at 11:33 AM
I believe the cross in this case to be constitutional, but the fact that Woonsocket is broke does not mean it has permission to otherwise violate the Constitution. If they violate the Constitution, they will be sued and be forced to amend their behavior, their whining notwithstanding.
Bill Santagata May 07, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Also, the government can make references to a general, nonsectarian concept of a Supreme Being in a brief and ceremonial manner, as you see in "In God We Trust" and in our state constitution. A federal court would most likely not find the use of "God" in our state's constitution to be unconstitutional.


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