SALT LAKE CITY -- A resolution supporting the use of crosses or other symbols along Utah roadsides to commemorate fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers was passed unanimously by a House committee Thursday.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who is also a UHP lieutenant, is sponsoring House Concurrent Resolution 16. It now goes before the House for further consideration.
Perry said the resolution, which just shows support from state representatives, senators and the governor, is needed now because a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a Texas-based group, American Atheists Inc., against UHP and UHP Association, a private, fraternal organization, may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few months.
A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in August that the 12-foot crosses, bearing UHP insignia, on 10 publicly owned sites are unconstitutional.
Materials for the crosses and the plaques telling about the UHP officer who died in the area were purchased by the UHP Association, which receives private donations.
Two of the 10 crosses are in Kaysville, next to Interstate 15. One cross is in honor of UHP Trooper George Dee Rees, who died July 2, 1960, after a stolen vehicle hit his car head-on in Farmington.
The second cross is in honor of UHP Lt. Thomas Sumner Rettberg, who died Feb. 11, 2000, after the helicopter he was piloting crashed just outside of the airport in Woods Cross.
In their decision, the circuit court judges wrote that the "memorial cross is not a generic symbol of death; it is a Christian symbol of death that signifies or memorializes the death of a Christian."
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals did place a stay in January on an order to have the crosses removed until the U.S. Supreme Court decides if it is going to hear the case.
Perry told committee members he has a conflict of interest with the resolution he is sponsoring because "I've been heavily involved with the cross project since its inception."
The committee passed an amendment that would allow a symbol other than the cross to be used for the memorial sites.
In 1996, Perry was the president of the UHP Association. He said he was approached by community members who wanted to memorialize UHP Trooper Randy Ingram, who died in October 1994 when his patrol car was struck by a tractor-trailer during a traffic stop just south of Nephi.
Perry said the Roman cross was selected as an appropriate symbol to memorialize the troopers, not as a symbol endorsing any religion. He said he contacted businesses to find out how much it would cost to buy materials and construct the crosses.
Businesses and community groups said there would be no cost to the UHP Association because "it was the right thing to do," Perry said.
The first four sites are on private property, while the other 10 are on state-owned property.
Perry said the association applied for a permit from the state for the crosses.
If the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the case, Perry said, the 10 crosses on public property will be removed and the association will seek private property on which to place the crosses.
In 2007, Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, put 14 white crosses on property he owns in Hurricane to honor the troopers.
Perry said he does not want family members of the fallen troopers to have to travel long distances to see the memorials.