COOS BAY — Local veterans are rallying to defend a cross-shaped Vietnam War memorial in Coos Bay’s Mingus Park.
“We do not see the cross as having anything to do with religion,” said Mark Winders, himself a Vietnam veteran and director of Pointman Ministries.
He expects local vets will show up en masse at a special April 2 Coos Bay City Council meeting, where the memorial will be the only agenda item.
“The vets want to make a stand and keep the cross where it’s at,” Winders said. “It’s a matter of principle.”
Western Bank and the Bay Area Jaycees donated the war memorial in 1972, and it has stood in the park ever since. Green and mossy, it blended into the park scenery until the city applied a fresh “skin” of white grout in 2011.
Now it has become the latest skirmish in America’s long-term conflict over the separation of church and state.
The city received a letter in February from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, asking the city to move the cross immediately. The letter from foundation lawyer Rebecca Markert said the organization had no problem with war memorials in general.
“Our objection is to the message of endorsement of Christianity over other religions and over nonreligion,” Markert wrote. “Additionally, the Christian-only memorial sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not Jewish, other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers.”
The Coquille-based South Coast Skeptics Society also wants the cross removed.
“While we respect the good intentions of the Bay Area Jaycees and Western Bank, we are concerned that the upper portion of the memorial, the part displaying the cross, is exclusionary and illegal,” spokeswoman Dawn Brittain said in a letter to The World’s Public Forum.
City officials don’t know how they would pay for a legal battle, City Manager Roger Craddock said. The city’s insurance might not cover it.
The Mingus Park memorial is not the only local war memorial with religious themes. Pointman Ministries’ own memorial, which includes scriptural messages, stands on public land beside U.S. Highway 101, just north of the McCullough Bridge.
While the Oregon Department of Transportation owns the land, the group has a 25-year lease.
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.