- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2014

There’s just one problem with the revered Normandy military cemetery in France: Too many Christian and Jewish soldiers are buried there, and not enough atheists and agnostics.

That’s the implication of a statement issued Friday by a Freedom from Religion Foundation attorney regarding an Arizona high school marching band’s tribute to veterans.

The foundation raised objections last month to a recent band performance, which included using white foam props to depict crosses and Stars of David, but Mesa Public Schools attorney Thomas Pickrell informed the organization that the intent was to replicate images from the Normandy cemetery, not promote religion.

Attorney Sam Grover said in an email that the anti-religion group was “satisfied” with the response, adding that the school district “appears to recognize its obligation to remain neutral toward religion” and chalking up the problem to a lack of “diversity” at the cemetery.

“It is unfortunate that the iconic headstones at the Normandy cemetery do such a poor job of representing the diversity of today’s military,” Mr. Grover said in the statement, sent by email to The Washington Times.

The remains of 9,387 U.S. troops are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial near Colleville-sur-Mer in France, most of whom were killed during the 1944 invasion of Normandy in World War II. Their graves are marked with stark white Latin crosses and Stars of David.

Mr. Grover went on to say that many of today’s soldiers are not religious.

“Modern military members, over 23 percent of whom are atheist, agnostic or have no religious preference, are given a diverse array of headstone emblems from which to choose, including an atheist “A,” a humanist symbol, and a variety of minority religious emblems,” Mr. Grover said.

The Mountain View High School band, which performed its program honoring veterans in October, plans to repeat the performance Saturday. The program won a “superior” rating Nov. 1 at the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors State Marching Festival, according to the Arizona Republic.

Mr. Pickrell pointed out in his Nov. 5 reply to the foundation that the band’s performance included no religious music or prayer.

“No objective person who saw the performance — your complainant told us that he did not — would perceive it to be anything other than an attempt through music and pageantry to recognize the patriotic sacrifice of our U.S. military veterans,” said Mr. Pickrell in his letter as cited in the Republic.

Mr. Grover raised concerns about the program in an Oct. 22 letter to district officials, saying, “Religion is a divisive force in public schools.”

“These Latin crosses alienate those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school,” Mr. Glover said.

In a scathing column Friday, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts said the Wisconsin-based foundation “apparently has a lot of time on its hands.”

“Somehow, I’m guessing the Constitution will survive the Marching Toros’ tribute to men and women who gave their lives so that people like Grover can obsess about a few foam crosses,” she concluded. “Had I been the school district, I’d have told Grover to go blow it out his … tuba.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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