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American Atheists, Inc. v. Duncan, No. 08-4061

By FindLaw Staff on August 19, 2010 12:15 PM

American Atheists, Inc. v. Duncan, No. 08-4061, involved an Establishment Clause Challenge to the decision of the Utah Highway Patrol Association, with the permission of Utah state authorities, to erect a number of twelve-foot high crosses on public land to memorialize fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers.  The court reversed summary judgment for defendants on the ground that the memorials had the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state preferred or otherwise endorsed a certain religion.

As the court wrote:  "The Utah Highway Patrol Association ("UHPA"), with the permission of
Utah state authorities, erected a number of twelve-foot high crosses on public land to memorialize fallen Utah Highway Patrol ("UHP") troopers. Plaintiffs-Appellants, American Atheists, Inc., a Texas non-profit organization, and three individual members of American Atheists who reside in Utah, challenge the legality of these memorials under the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution and Article I of Utah's constitution. We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the State prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion. They therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution. In light of this conclusion, we need not reach the separate question of whether these displays also violate Utah's constitution."

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