The city of Santa Fe has teamed up with a group of conservative Utahan legislators to support the Utah Highway Patrol Association’s practice of placing tall, white crosses on state land to honor fallen officers. In an amicus curiae brief filed with the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 24, the city argues that a ruling against the Utah crosses could affect the Cross of the Martyrs, the 20-foot white I-beam crucifix in Fort Marcy Park that memorializes the 21 Franciscan friars killed during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
The Utah branch of American Atheists, Inc. brought suit against the UHPA in December 2005 after nearly eight years of opposing the organization’s practice of planting crosses. The defendants, which include the UHPA and Utah Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Scott Duncan, have so far argued successfully that the cross symbol, when used to mark where someone died, is not necessarily a religious icon. To date, UHPA has erected 14 crosses on state land, each with the official Utah Highway Patrol logo, according to Brian Barnard, attorney for American Atheists.
“I’m sure in New Mexico you’ve seen those 2-foot tall crosses by the side of the road, where a family has put up a memorial because there was a fatal traffic accident,” Barnard, who filed his response to the city’s brief on Nov. 3, tells SFR. “Well, that ain’t what we got here. They’re made out of steel, they’re in a concrete base and they’re 12 feet tall.”
At the request of Santa Fe City Attorney Frank Katz, the City Council voted in September to approve the amicus curiae, a brief filed by someone who is not a party to the case.
“What we have is a large white cross memorializing the death of New Mexico folks placed on (perhaps) public property,” Katz says. “That’s sort of the exact situation they have Utah.”
Except it’s not.
While the Utah crosses are similar in design to the Cross of the Martyrs, they memorialize contemporary, not historical deaths. More importantly, Barnard says, the Utah crosses feature official government emblems while Santa Fe’s cross does not.
Also—as indicated by Katz’ use of the qualifier “perhaps”—the Cross of the Martyrs may not be on government property. The land certainly belonged to the city at one point, Katz says, but the parcel may have been transferred to the Santa Fe Fiesta Council.
Indeed, Santa Fe Fiesta Council President Gabby Montoya says the Santa Fe Fiesta Foundation currently holds the deeds to the site. A 1998 Santa Fe New Mexican article states the foundation was formed as a buffer between the city government and church-related fiesta activities.
The amicus brief was entered by the Washington, DC-based law firm Baker Botts LLP at no charge to the city. The Cross of the Martyrs is mentioned twice in the 36-page document.
“ [A] decision striking down the UHPA Memorial Crosses would cast an ominous shadow of threatened litigation over many large and long-standing monuments, such as the Cross of the Martyrs in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” Baker Botts attorney Chad Boudreaux writes.
In his response, Barnard references the Historic Santa Fe Foundation Web site’s page about the Cross of the Martyrs. However, that page details a stone cross built in 1920, not the metal cross currently at issue.
Plaintiff Richard Andrews, who founded the Utah chapter of American Atheists in 1979, says it’s all irrelevant.
“I don’t think the Utah Christian Crosses case would have any affect on the crosses in Santa Fe,” Andrews says.