Grieving Mother Mistreated by Heartless Atheists

Here’s this article: Atheists Fight With Grieving Mom Over Roadside Crosses.

Son dies in a auto accident at the age of 19, grief-stricken mother erects a memorial of crosses and flowers on city property, humanist group asks city council to disallow it.

Good call? Bad call? Commenting on Facebook, Sinis Tergrin weighs in:

I think it’s pretty mean spirited to target a grieving mother. What kind of person complains about this based on the “separation of church and state”?? I thought we in the atheist community were supposed to uphold certain values, compassion being one of them.. Ridiculous. I can think of better fights to take on than this.

Yeah, nice Christian mom puts up a religious monument on public land, and the wicked mean atheists ask for public land to NOT be used for religious monuments. How could they be so SELFISH?

But another commenter agrees with Tergrin:

For sure. This is the sort of thing that makes people hate atheists before they even know them. I don’t like all the wind blown half ass memorials thrown around, but I would never remove one out of consideration to the family.

As someone who has experienced death of beloved family members, I understand grief. Oh boy, do I understand it. But look, people die every day, in horrible ways. EVERYBODY you know is a family member of someone, EVERYBODY you know feels such grief at one time or another.

And as far as I know, every single person in the humanist and atheist community respects the rights of family members to express that grief in any way they care to, and as long as they care to, privately, among their friends and family, and on their own property. Additionally, they can carry out ceremonies in their church ranging from simple to extravagant.  They can participate in funerary processions along public roadways, and most of us will respectfully give way. They can place monuments in cemeteries that will last hundreds of years. They can even travel to the public site of the loved one’s death, and linger there in respect and sadness.

We all understand that every grieving person, mom or not, shares those same rights. But no matter how much you’re hurting, your private grief is not acceptable justification for using public land for a private religious display. No single one of us, not a hundred of us, not even a million of us, can eclipse public land for permanent, visible expressions of our own private grief. As the story says:

The council conceded that the large, handmade plywood crosses violated the separation of church and state.

The principle at stake here is bigger than one grieving mother. It’s about equality, equal protection on the public stage. The fact is, the mother has no legal right to put a cross there. She never did. It was against the law from the beginning. It was only because this was an expression of the Christian faith, and because of our innate respect for mothers, especially in this tough situation, that it got a pass as long as it did. The authorities deliberately looked away … until they were reminded that we can’t afford to allow our government to play favorites based on private religious principles, even those of grieving mothers.

… Ann Marie Devaney [mother of 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, killed while crossing the street], tearfully removed the crosses white crosses (sic) she had placed near the spot where he was struck after the decision came Thursday.”It’s like I’m losing my son again, pretty much,” Devaney said. “It hurts when you lose a child.”

“It’s so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross,” she said. “It’s his personal preference that he was Christian. What’s wrong with having a cross up?”

I think I’m as compassionate as the next guy, and probably more compassionate than most. Speaking just for myself, I’d be inclined to look away too. Hell, what’s one little cross given a pass to salve the feelings of a grieving mom? But the thing is, it never stops with just one grieving mother. It never stops with just one cross:

Immediately after she removed them, another group came and replaced the crosses with six more.

In your face, hateful atheists! Screw that separation of church and state that benefits people of every faith, and no faith at all. These are Christians we’re talking about, and THEY have a right to have crosses on public land. They will dang-sure demonstrate that to the entire world.

This time because it’s a grieving mother, next time because a vocal majority of Christian locals agree, the time after that because they damned well feel like it and the rest of us can just shut the hell up.



  • Matteo Watkins

    “This time because it’s a grieving mother, next time because a vocal majority of Christian locals agree, the time after that because they damned well feel like it and the rest of us can just shut the hell up”… I think if you can’t distinguish between the personal expression of a cry for help by somebody who it not equipped to deal with it in any other way, and religious dictatorship, then you are no better than anyone else (insert ANY argument here…) who can’t see any shade of gray… I’m an opinionated atheist willing to stand my ground, but you seem to have let your political stand take precedence over simply being a good fellow human being. I prefer to live my life first as a human, and then as an atheist. I feel sorry for you that your priorities have shown you to be both a positive and staunch supporter of the atheist “cause”, as well as, unfortunately a prime example of an asshole.

    • Hank Fox

      I’m pretty sure I did clearly distinguish the personal feelings of the mother from the larger issue. But the followup, where the nice Christians put up SIX crosses, is ready evidence that this is anything BUT a private personal issue for this one woman. It’s an assault by a vocal segment of the Christian community, a clear statement of “We can do anything we want and you can’t stop us. Because we’re Christians.” If replying to that makes one an asshole, I don’t know that we atheists should be saying anything at all, ever.

      BTW, did you notice that it wasn’t the evil atheists who took down the original cross, but the local city council? Willingly? And with a generous lead time?

      Re: “Asshole” I’ll refer you to this post: An Epiphany on Road Rage Online.

  • Luca Di Bon

    I think it’s going a bit overboard but doesn’t he have an actual grave where his actual body is buried? I highly doubt he’s buried on the side of the road. Why would she visit the cross on the side of the road rather than this actual resting place?

  • shart of turin

    I read somewhere the shrine had been in place for two years. Seems like a generous allotment considering it’s a six-feet tall distraction on a part of the road where someone was already distracted enough to hit and kill a pedestrian. Roadsides are not meant to contain shrines to dead loved ones. That’s what cemeteries are for. That should be the reasonable response, not the atheists response.

  • Boothby171

    As long as the Christians don’t complain when a Muslim religious symbol is put up on public land by a grieving mother, and is allowed to stay there for 2 years, we’ll all be OK.

  • Bones Thompson

    I have no problem with them having it there for a short period of time,but after it being there for two years it has been there for to long. I see these roadside memorials all the time and if they were left there indefinitely because the family is grieving they would clutter up the roadside and be an eyesore. They should be regularly cleaned up no matter if they are of a religious or secular nature.

  • Edward Lester

    Does this article mention that the memorial was up for two years? Also, the new crosses put up say pretty awful things and are in complete bad taste of capitalizing off of a small controversy.

  • Excellent post, Hank! We can experience sympathy for this or any other grieving mother, but that does not mean we should look the other way on church-state violations. It isn’t always going to be easy or fun to defend the separation of church and state, but that does not make it any less necessary.

  • BoomerMan

    Absolutely inappropriate for atheists to complain. This is NOT a violation of the concept of separation of church and state. Although the cross is on government land, it was not funded, erected or maintained by government funds. It was simply a statement of a grieving mother.

    YES… we atheists have many battles to wage. This is NOT one of them.

    • yewtree

      Oh yeah? And if a Pagan or an atheist got run over, would the Christians allow the grieving mother to put up a memorial with a Pagan or an atheist symbol on it?

      • BoomerMan

        Actually, Yewtree, there is no “atheist symbol” so that likely wouldn’t be an issue. The most you might see is a simple marker w/ flowers. The same kind you see (sadly) over many of our highways here in the US.

        • yewtree

          Hi BoomerMan, admittedly there is not a universally agreed atheist symbol, but there is one for veterans’ headstones, and there’s also the big red A that some atheists were promoting a while back. (Shades of “The Scarlet Letter”, I thought!) It is unlikely that anyone would put either of these symbols on one of these roadside memorials, though, but you never know.

          I did know someone who was researching the folklore behind these kinds of markers – I wonder if she has published her research yet? There does seem to be some desire in people to put a marker at the point where the person died, as well as where their remains are. I can’t help thinking that the roadsides are going to get quite cluttered. That said, when driving in Greece, you can measure how dangerous a road is by the number of roadside shrines to people killed there, which is sad.

          • BoomerMan

            Hey Yewtree, It is painful to think of all the lives lost on the road. I live in California, USA and I’m a volunteer with the California HIghway Patrol. Part of my weekly assignments while I’m on patrol is to assist officers at crash scenes by securing the safety of the scene for both emergency responders and victims. This frees the officers to go about investigating the crash and rendering assistance to victims when necessary. I’ve been to quite a few fatal crashes. There’s ALWAYS one of three factors in a fatal collision: Speed, Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs, and improper or not wearing of seatbelts. Often it’s more than one and many times it’s all three.

            Fact of the matter is that most fatal crashes are completely preventable if people would drive a speed safe for the conditions, don’t drink and drive and ALWAYS properly wear your seatbelt.

            (you might notice I call them crashes and not ‘accidents’, because it’s never an accident. It’s ALWAYS the result of somebody screwing up by speeding, drunk/drugs, no seat belts, texting, cell phone use or some other inattention of some sort)

          • yewtree

            I was involved in a car crash, and was very grateful to the paramedics who arrived on the scene (in a NHS ambulance). The person who completely wrote off my car lost control of his car (I think through careless driving but this was never proven) and ended up on the wrong side of the road. I swerved to avoid him but then his car bounced off some railings and hit my car, writing it off.

            The paramedic said that what saved my life was having a German car (nice and strong). I was also wearing my seat-belt, and the air-bags activated.

  • geohump

    I’m a Christian, and I understand the desire for these memorials after a grievous death. But after a few days, these need to be moved to the funeral home, and then to the cemetery or other memorial gardens.

    If they are left in place they pose a danger and a hazard to people using the roads, sidewalks and highways, so they cannot remain there.

    I understand that different cultures have different values regarding this, but in the final analysis, safety is the most important to consider and these must move off the public right of way to a safe location after a short period of time.

    • Samuel

      What if its a national cemetery or publicly owned cemetery?
      Are you going to argue that religious symbols will need to be removed from memorials there too? I’m all for religious tolerance but the government did not place the crosses their and shouldn’t intrude on private citizens religion.

      • Lark62

        Have you been to a military cemetery? The individual grave markers are identical. Yet each has a different name on it, and whatever symbols – such as a cross – the family wants. However, the large monuments in remembrance of specific battles or specific units do not have Christian symbols on them, in recognition of the fact that many of our nation’s heroes are not Christian.

    • Mario Strada

      This is precisely the point with this display. No one was going to go up to the mother the day after she put up her cross and tell her to remove it. No one would have faulted her if she left it there up to the funeral and many of us would have understood if the cross remained there for a few weeks as well.

      At some point the cross has got to go. These are public roads and scores of people die on them every day, sadly. If everyone planted a cross for each death, our freeways would look like a shrine to a thousands dead.

      Why stop at a cross? How about a mausoleum then? A statue? Is there a point when even grieving mothers have to be told “no, you can’t”?

      Ideally, this grieving mother would have understood that the time had passed. A reasonable time. In her case she was at least a year past “reasonable” and then more.

      We have to live together on this planet. The reason why we have countless laws that regulate the hell out of our lives is precisely because some people don’t respect common sense boundaries. And when they are reminded of them they play the victim.

      My father died a bit over 13 years ago. To me his passing is as raw as it was the next day. I know what grief feels like. But I would not impose on my neighbors a memorial to him even on my own property. It would be in bad taste and it’s not going to bring my father back anyway.

      To answer Samuel below, a national cemetery is one of those places where we understand that religious displays are OK. Each tomb is allowed, by common agreement and by common sense, to display the religious affiliation of the person buried there.

      As long as Christians leave my own tomb alone and let me display what I want as I want it, no one has an issue with it .
      If Christians wanted to place a huge Cross at the entrance of the cemetery that would be different. The cemetery is supposed to be a “friendly zone” to all faiths. As Christians would not appreciate a scale monument of the Mecca Mosque, everyone else will appreciate Christians not erecting a giant cross on common ground.

      But on each individual tomb, no one has an issue if it respects the individual buried there.

  • painperdu

    I can understand a month or so while the family is in grieving but should it stay up indefinitely?

  • Erik Duzell Sr.

    My issue with public displays of religion has more to do with an objection to proselytizing and imposing one’s beliefs on myself and my family. I don’t feel this is an appropriate venue for a separation argument. That being said, I live in an area where these memorials are quite common and think they can be somewhat of an eyesore. I feel that a time limit on this sort of thing on public land is reasonable, no matter the religious connotation of the memorial.

    • Lark62

      To be clear, this is not about a “public display of religion” – letting the world see your religion. This is about using “public land” – government owned property – for the display. Anyone can display their beliefs in public ’til the cows come home. The objection comes when people try to use government property or government authority for their public display.

  • Cris Bessette

    Non- US citizens may not realize that there is a cultural tradition in many parts of the USA to put up memorials at sites of accidents, generally auto accidents, plane crashes,etc.
    Some are only there for a few months, some will stay for years on end (like the one in the story- the accident was in May 2012)

    Though I am not a religious person, I grew up in this culture and see nothing inappropriate with this tradition.

    I think in this particular situation though, the memorial was erected on public property and had been there since Early 2012, maybe it was time for it to come down.

  • Voidhawk

    This isn’t a permanent monument, but the equivalent of flowers tied to the railing. This is a massive and heartless overreaction.

    I’m ashamed of the AHA on this one.

    • Lark62

      This was the equivalent of flowers tied a railing, only if flowers are normally 5 feet tall and have a concrete base buried in the ground to hold them in place

      • Voidhawk

        Yeah, I didn’t realise that this was two years later and was a permanant fixture. I retract my earlier comment.

  • J.W. Browning

    It’s funny, for most of us I believe atheism is just a facet of our life. For others it IS their life. It is as religion is to the religious.. Atheism consumes their every action and every thought. They look for opportunities to be “offended” by religion and the religious and this is just an example of what I speak of.
    My biggest objection to the roadside memorial is not it’s religious content but the amount of time it spent there. Two years is absurd. I am not a fan of the roadside memorial but I understand it. To me it is a bit morbid. There should absolutely be a finite amount of time that is is allowed if at all. But I do not think it encroaches on separation of church and state.

    • Hank Fox

      Certainly there are avid atheists. I’d be one of them. Finding things to be offended about, when you really step back and look at what religion has done to civilization, and what it does to individuals, is not all that hard.

      But these individual incidents have to be dealt with in some way too, I think. There actually is a tussle going on over freedom of religion, and the aggressors so far have been on the goddy team. Notice what happened after the woman took the cross down: Six more showed up.

      When’s the last time you heard of an atheist going into a church and telling people there’s no god? Never. We just don’t do that. But Christians come out in public all the time and preach their schtick. It’s necessary that we react defensively.

      A religious memorial placed on public land absolutely does encroach on the separation of church and state. The thing is, the Christians know it as well as we do.

      • yewtree

        As a member of a non-Christian religion (and living in a country without separation of church and state), I am in favour of the separation of church and state.

      • Kathy K-m

        I hate to burst your bubble of naivete….of nice, peaceful loving atheists but I’m afraid that’s not quite true. The insults, mockery, atheist mythology that’s out there is pretty damned appalling. On my Facebook Page, Atheists to Zygotes, I have recently posted a conversation with an overly zealous atheist, who is suggesting DEATH CAMPS FOR THE RELIGIOUS. And he accused me of not really being atheist, because I promote tolerance. As atheists, we can’t continue to ignore this very ugly elephant in the room.

  • Thin-ice

    If the child of Muslim parents died there, how long would a “Star & Crescent” Islamic emblem be allowed to remain before it was vandalized by Christians, or taken down by the city council?

  • Yonah

    My advice to future grieving mothers is to just erect Greek crosses at a 45 degree angle and just tell the atheists it’s an “X marks the spot” symbol.

    • Machintelligence

      Is this the sort of thing you were thinking of?

      • Yonah

        lol, I had no idea those existed. But, I suppose there are some ardent atheists out there who shall see crosses. We’re going to have to redesign railroad crossing signs, you know.

  • Tracy Burgess

    I have seen these memorials become so big and gawdy as to distract drivers. Then the bits and pieces blow over and fall down. Even cemetaries won’t let people put all that stuff on grave without evebtually cleaning them off to mow.

    The issue is about use of public land and public safety. Should tax payers be resonsible for these private sites? What about liability? If the site causes another accident who is at fault?

  • Kathy K-m

    This roadside memorializing seems to be common….flowers, teddy bears, notes, balloons, placed at the location of death. Our region discourages them, as they are a distraction to drivers. But even as an atheist, I have no objection to crosses, or Stars of David, or Ganesh, or any other symbol they wish to place there. The momento’s represent the life of a tragically lost loved one. Not a political statement.

    • Hank Fox

      It’s definitely political.