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Federal Court Trial Gets Underway Over Religious Symbols In Lake Elsinore

A court trial began Oct. 1 that will decide whether the City of Lake Elsinore can install at a public venue a taxpayer-funded memorial that depicts a Christian cross and Star of David.

U.S. Federal Court in Los Angeles.  File photo.
U.S. Federal Court in Los Angeles. File photo.
The trial in U.S. Federal Court to determine the legality of the proposed City of Lake Elsinore veterans' memorial depicting a Christian cross and Star of David began today in Los Angeles.

With the Honorable Steven V. Wilson presiding, the American Humanist Association representing Lake Elsinore-based plaintiffs John Larsen and Diana Hansen was up first and questioned former city employee and veterans' memorial ad hoc committee liaison Justin Carlson.

"I was on the committee and served as the middleman for the city," Carlson explained. "My job was to gather ideas for the ad hoc committee; it's my understanding the information I provided is the depiction of a World War II-era cemetery."

After about an hour on the stand, Carlson was dismissed after the judge commented, Carlson "doesn't have much to offer one way or the other."

Former Lake Elsinore City Councilwoman and current California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez was second to the stand and said, "as a city, we were looking to honor all veterans, those who have served, those still serving and those who will serve."

Melendez' two hours on the witness stand had a brief five-minute interruption for testimony by former Lake Elsinore City Councilman Peter Weber who, according to attorneys, had a schedule conflict that necessitated the break.
Weber stated the Christian cross at the center of the memorial’s controversy "doesn't always signify religion," and said the proposed memorial is not an effort by the city to make a stand for religion.

The judge said the case before him is "about context. In Mr. Weber's view, the cross and Star of David are not about religion." 

While replaying elements of Lake Elsinore City Council meetings from 2012, each morning witness was asked to remember elements of events that led up to the city ultimately approving the memorial in November.

Melendez was fiery and repeatedly sparred with the plaintiffs’ lawyers Tuesday. During her term on the Lake Elsinore City Council, Melendez was a leading advocate for the cross and Star of David symbols on the proposed memorial.
Witnesses waiting to testify as the court took a lunch break were all the members of the current city council and a few members of the ad hoc committee.

Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute is representing the City of Lake Elsinore pro-bono, a move that Melendez helped secure.

The heart of the city’s argument is that the symbols proposed for the memorial are not religious when taken altogether.

Brad Dacus, president of PJI, told Patch they are an accurate depiction of a “World War II foreign cemetery.”

“It has a clear secular purpose,” Dacus said in July.

The proposed granite memorial depicts a soldier kneeling in front of a Christian cross and the Star of David. (See attached artist's rendering.) The $50,000 taxpayer-funded memorial is proposed to be installed at the entrance of The Diamond Stadium.

On July 16, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson granted a preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs after the city asked that the case be dismissed.

According to a written ruling by Wilson, the monument is an unconstitutional display by the municipality because it sends an "unmistakably religious message" that city leaders overtly support.

Wilson conceded the U.S. Supreme Court has made allowances for publicly financed religious displays in "borderline" instances of religious endorsement, but the cases were usually settled by the obvious presence of sectarian symbols that provided some balance.

“The court will look and assess as to whether [the memorial] has a valid and secular purpose and effect,” Dacus said.

William Burgess, an attorney with AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, doesn’t think the city’s argument has legal merit.

In July he said, “The city has clearly violated the First Amendment by unnecessarily choosing a divisively religious means of honoring our veterans. In addition, the California constitution prohibits any governmental funding whatsoever for religious purposes, including religious monuments.” -- By Patch staff with contributor assistance.


turnitaround October 02, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Go to church and pray. First thing you see upon arriving off the Ortega under a huge pile of trash "Jesus Saves", well apparently he doesn't pick up trash. God is on the money, it's on signs, there are churches on every corner and the religious people still aren't happy. I don't believe in God and I don't believe in Santa Claus, same story, one is for kids, one is for adults, same BS. $50k for a statue to honor war vets who mostly aren't even alive. How about we honor our fire fighters that saved our town? How about we hire another cop to help clear the meth heads off the streets. How about we hire someone to pick up trash? It's unreal how poorly run this city is and I can't wait to have some time to start going to city council meetings. I hope the Humanist win. Tired of religion being pushed on me everywhere I go.
Bd October 02, 2013 at 04:22 PM
I'll have to look for that "Jesus Saves' sign tonight Turnaround. I've been driving the Ortega daily for over 15 years and have never noticed it. Refer to my message above where I say that athiest seem to be able to find religeous symbols that Christians don't. Interesting why that might be. I would have thought it would be the other way around.
Pacific Justice October 02, 2013 at 04:27 PM
We at the Pacific Justice Institute are proud to represent the city in this attack on those veterans who have given their life for this country: http://youtu.be/uFmELNqp390
Joseph Morabito October 02, 2013 at 04:27 PM
I just hope they leave room for an E-Meter... wouldn't want to get Tom Cruise and John Travolta mad at the IE. ____________________________________________________ BD, operative words "—MY— lord and savior..."
Joseph Morabito October 02, 2013 at 04:30 PM
BD, there are those god awful "Jesus Saves" signs all over the place. Up and down the freeway... you can't be serious that you've not seen them for at least the past decade. Nothing says "hallelujah" better than Graffiti for Jesus.
Bd October 02, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Was that supposed to sting Joseph? I'm not sure where you went with that. I'm not trying to impose anything on anyone else. You and I seem to agree on nearly every other subject. I'm only commenting here because I find it curious why it is so offensive to athiest? The City (according to the article) is stating that the monumnent reflects the scene of a typical WWII cemetary. I'm sure there were wickens buried there too, but the number would be insignificant. BTW, look up the Bill of Rights and re-read the First Amendment. There's no law being passed here. It's a simple monument to fallen soldiers that happens to include a cross. Why is that so devestating??? And as far as graffiti, I guess I've trained myself not to look very closely at it or the other unsightly things that I have to drive passed in our community. Take care Joseph. Rememer, we agree on most things. :)
One Voice October 02, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Martha, My comment Oct 1st: With all that is going on today in our Country and Government this dispute over the symbol is frivolous and makes Lake Elsinore look like a laughing stock once again. ______________________________ Marthas comment to me:One Voice, you be nice. Stop making false assumptions about things you know nothing about. There is no need for you to post lies about someone just because you don't like what they say._____________What are you talking about Martha?? Lies about who? Assumptions? My post was a statement there wasn't any assumption?____________Or are you referring to this post Oct 2nd, Martha, be nice. Everyone is allowed to comment it's called freedom of speech, one of the few rights us Americans have left, there really is no need for you to spout of at anyone that doesn't agree with you....geez God Bless America!!!!!!!!!!!! I have only post two comments!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Joseph Morabito October 02, 2013 at 04:54 PM
BD, Thanks for being a good sport about it. :) ____________________________________________________ In all actuality, though I do not have a belief in any gods, I understand that religion is part of our culture, and certainly part of our history. I remember when the whackos were trying to get the cross off the LA County seal. How silly... it's folly to try and separate religious symbols from the history of California - it happened. Same goes for the cross on Mt. Rubidoux. People need to stop getting freaked out over every little thing. There are no clear cut lines when it comes to religious symbols on public property, but it sure would be nice if more people would use reason as much as they use passion —speaking of both sides here. There is a big difference between a "Free Thinker" and an Atheist. Anything with an -ism is a belief system, and the faithful of the -ism are -ists. I don't stomach big "A" atheists any better than I do any other group of pushy zealots.
Bd October 02, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Joe, I apologize for not taking the time to look that up. You're correct. I meant no disrespect to them or to you. My point was that if I were at that cemetary and gazed across the landscape, the changes of seeing anything but crosses and Stars of David would be slight.
Roberto October 02, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Looks like the only stalker Martha has left is One Voice. Moron & Yelp seem to have given up for now. Martha, let's hope the court ruling is just IMHO.
Roberto October 02, 2013 at 05:21 PM
How many AAA Ball Parks have crosses? I personally have no problem with the memorial except you have to wonder is this is being used by Malicious Melendez for political purposes. She appears to only be concerned with political posturing IMHO.
lotsahelp October 02, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Sad sad and pitiful- really pertinent to the article and the comments and again just shows how little some know about freedom of speech....____from roberto:Roberto October 02, 2013 at 05:02 PM Looks like the only stalker Martha has left is One Voice. Moron & Yelp seem to have given up for now. Martha, let's hope the court ruling is just IMHO____________________
turnitaround October 02, 2013 at 05:52 PM
BD they took it down and moved it over to Collier, was up for more than a month. Open your eyes when you drive, Jesus doesn't save and driving with your eyes closed is dangerous.
Martha L. Bridges October 02, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Amen to that Roberto! It is political posturing and vote getting that interest Melendez.
turnitaround October 02, 2013 at 05:58 PM
BD I'm not an atheist, I'm a realist. Just want to set the record straight. Go to church, you have millions to choose from and remember, God always needs money despite being the almighty and not having to pay taxes.
Martha L. Bridges October 02, 2013 at 06:02 PM
One Voice, you are a mean-spirited and contentious person - always looking for ways to put down anyone who does not agree with you with references to their lack of YOUR TYPE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND YOUR POLITICAL LEANINGS. You have said these things here on the Patch many times and you get to own the responsibility for that - like it or not.
Bd October 02, 2013 at 06:17 PM
Turnitaround, I meant no offense. Reality is the totality of each of our individual experiences, so we're all realists. You haven't yet experienced God, but that doesn't mean you will always be a disbeliever. I was a headstrong non-believer too when I was a young man. No one could talk to me about it without getting a snide response. I had an experience, or series of experiences, that convinced me that God exists. As for money and the Church, there are terribly unscrupulous people out there representing the Church...but much more often than not the donations are used to fundamentally impact those in need.
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 02, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Roberto and Martha you are right about Malicious Mel she is the worse kind of political hack she will do anything to get the vote and talk out of both sides of her mouth on an issue. I want to know how much has this case cost us? City staff off work attending the trial, City Attorney attending the trial, council people attending court, loss of first case - does anyone know what the figures are? Lets keep our fingers crossed she is a one term assembly woman and never gets elected for anything else ever again. Mel go home and take care of your children.
Roberto October 02, 2013 at 07:28 PM
I wonder how much the City Attorney being at the court are billable hours? Seems to me that regardless of free, their are large hidden cost associated with the lawsuit. This pure political Christian-Veteran baiting for the sole purpose of political play. None of us are not thankful to our combat war veterans yet this issue is being exploited by Malicious Mel who incidently, fired our city manager costing untold thousands, d against Ontario Intl local control and voted illegally in an RDA area exactly like what George Alongi was convicted of.
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 02, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Roberto she is the worse and like you have said before we can't afford malicious mel. She has turned me off with shady ways from the get go. Would someone please tell us exactly how much the city has paid so far for Malicious Mels monument with the star of david and crosses? George Alongi was murdered and the case should be solved not turned into a cold case file. If Zellerbach was a D.A. working for the people he would have a grand jury investigating the RDA caper, the Weirdomar City antics and other questionable activities.
Roberto October 02, 2013 at 07:48 PM
The rumours on who murdered George are widly circulated. Would love to see the Sheriff's get them and convict HIM and Her of his murder. R.I.P. George
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 02, 2013 at 08:53 PM
I'm with you Roberto
One Voice October 02, 2013 at 11:56 PM
LER speak up for yourself, quit being a follower to make friends, Roberto, Carl, Martha, man up for once......sheep...baaaaa you are that person don't you see it? Are you that desperate for friends?
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 03, 2013 at 08:49 AM
Roberto I have also heard the rumors Lake Elsinore is a small town and words spreads fast. Like One Voice/Diana and all the other aka's with the drinking problem ROTFLMAO.
Joseph Morabito October 03, 2013 at 09:10 AM
LER, you need to line up some board games for your family home night and stop besmirching your fellow mormons with your unchristian behavior. I wonder if you even care what negative impact your boorish behavior does or not. ____________________________________________________ The LDS Church responded on September 25, 2013 at 10:18 AM as follows: Br. Morabito: ____________________________________________________ Thank you for your message to us, and we are so sorry for the events that seem to be transpiring out there on the Lake Elsinore-Wildomar Patch. Here at LDS.org we have no way of knowing who this person is, or if they are a member of the Church. This is the reality of the Internet. Even local Church leaders like the Stake President Wilson who was mentioned in the article are very limited - even if he was to write in a comment that deplored the activities and comments of this person, you know as well as I do what the result would be - he and the Church would be attacked on all sides for attempting to impose our views on others and deny them their Constitutional Free Speech rights, etc. etc. etc. Believe me, the Church has a L-O-N-G history of trying to deal with critics and others who use misinformation and lies to harm the Church... ____________________________________________________ Keep up the harmful work LER.
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 03, 2013 at 09:19 AM
Roberto she is the worse and like you have said before we can't afford malicious mel. She has turned me off with shady ways from the get go. Would someone please tell us exactly how much the city has paid so far for Malicious Mels monument with the star of david and crosses? George Alongi was murdered and the case should be solved not turned into a cold case file. If Zellerbach was a D.A. working for the people he would have a grand jury investigating the RDA caper, the Weirdomar City antics and other questionable activities.
One Voice October 03, 2013 at 12:26 PM
LER my AKA'S are only made up in your mind as well as this drinking problem, you seem to be obsessed with me, you might want to seek out some professional help with the fantasies that you seem to have floating around in your mind about me, obsessing about someone for as long as you have me is just twisted, not to mention wrong in so many ways.
Roberto October 03, 2013 at 12:41 PM
I'm afraid I'll have to support DA Zellerbach. After Grover Trask and his chosen successor Ron Pacheco we finally had someone elected not tied to the inner circle. The Prosecutors Union is actively working to oust Zellerbach. These are the same cronies who Don't prosecute White Collar Crime, Child support arrears and are only concerned in numbers while allowing violent crime and theft to go unchecked. Is Zellerbcah ever going to do the right thing and fire all the lazy Unionized Prosecutors who spend their time trying to oust him? Let's hope so...
Diana October 03, 2013 at 06:17 PM
''Life is tough! It's even tougher when you're stupid.'' John Wayne - Republican
LAKE ELSINORE RESIDENT October 04, 2013 at 10:29 AM
We can't afford Malicious Mell. She has turned me off with her shady way from the get go. Would someone please tell us exactly how much the city has paid so far for Malicious Mels monument with the star of david and crosses? George Alongi was murdered and the case should be solved not turned into a cold case file. If Zellerbach was a D.A. working for the people he would have a grand jury investigating the RDA caper, the Weirdomar City antics and other questionable activities.

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