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Mom removes memorial highway cross for dead son after atheists protest

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A long-running dispute in southern California has been resolved at last. An atheist rights group has won, and a grieving mother has lost. Compassion and tolerance, supposedly much prized by liberals, were also casualties of the ruling.

NBC 4 quotes the mother, Ann Marie Devaney, as saying amid a veil of tears, “It's like I'm losing my son again.”

Devaney lost herself the first time in May 2012, when 19-year-old Anthony Devaney was struck and killed by an SUV as he crossed a street in Lake Elsinore. In the months that followed, his mom erected a pair of white crosses on the side of the road where Anthony died, both to memorialize a child taken from her too early and to remind motorists that defensive driving saves lives.

But the crosses were a grave inconvenience to an atheist community member, who enlisted the aid of the ironically named American Humanist Association to support him in his crusade to remove the offensive symbols from city-owned property. In a letter to the Lake Elsinore city council, the group wrote:

The city's selective enforcement of its signage ordinance and its display of the Christian cross on government property violates the state and federal Constitutions, and must therefore be removed immediately.

On Thursday the council ruled that the crosses must come down. Ann Marie Devaney arrived at the site early to mourn her son, hours before she removed the tribute. "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?"

Laurie Howanec, the mother of the teen driver who killed Anthony, was among the community members who opposed removal of the crosses and showed up to lend support to Devaney. "That's their memorial, that's where they go to grieve," Howanec said.

There is a vaguely optimistic footnote to the story: Minutes after Devaney dismantled the crosses, outraged residents erected six more in their place (shown here). They were crudely made using slats of plywood, and each boasted a hand-written sign. “What happened to freedom?” one of them read. Another had the simple message “RIP Dear Anthony.”

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