Trials & Litigation

Atheists Group Gets $1, Lawyer $388K as Utah Mulls Roadside Cross Alternatives for Slain Officers

After news that Utah has settled for nearly $400,000 a suit over roadside crosses placed to commemorate troopers slain in the line of duty, lawmakers and others are considering alternatives.

Only $1 of the settlement will go to American Atheists Inc. and the three members who filed the federal civil rights suit in Salt Lake City in the Associated Press reports.

Attorney Brian Barnard, who represented the plaintiffs, will get $388,000 to pay his fees for handling the case. It was initially dismissed in U.S. District Court, but the Denver-based 10th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2010 opinion (PDF) agreed with the plaintiffs that the crosses represented a state endorsement of Christianity, the news agency explains.

The state and the Utah Highway Patrol, which unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, “fought tooth and nail saying these crosses aren’t really religious symbols and they should stay,” Barnard said. “They wouldn’t entertain any discussion about compromising over six years. We offered repeatedly to try and resolve it short of full litigation.”

Lawmakers are now mulling alternatives to commemorate fallen troopers, such as safety signs that would include both a message to motorists and the trooper’s name. They potentially could be placed either where the death occurred or in the officer’s hometown, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

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