Legal opinion advises Boone Co. to remove Desert Storm Memorial

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COLUMBIA - The Boone County Commission released a legal opinion Wednesday stating the Desert Storm Memorial that sits on government property should be altered or removed because of the "ichthus" symbol on it.

The "Operation Desert Storm Memorial" is on the the county courthouse grounds.

The legal opinion, by attorney Daniel Simon, stated "with the Memorial being kept in its current form, containing the ichtþs symbol [...] represents and constitutes, or can reasonably be construed by citizens who view the Memorial, as being a governmental endorsement of the Christian faith, as opposed to other religious faiths or as opposed to those who 'have no faith at all,' and that, therefore, the Memorial, in its current form, would be found by such court to violate the requirement of religious neutrality as imposed by federal courts."

The legal opinion advises "the Commission should either alter the Memorial to remove the Symbol or, at its expense, move the Memorial to a non-public land location."

Sr. Vice Commander of VFW Post 280, Don Briggs, said he would like it to stay where it is, despite the religious symbol.

"I fought for my country so that people that oppose this have the right to express their opinions," Briggs said. "But when they start trying to oppose their rights on me -- I don't think that's right."

A first reading and the chance for the public to comment will happen in the chambers of the Boone County Government Building on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 2:30 p.m. A second reading, another chance for public comment and a vote will happen on a later date. 

If the commissioners vote to move the memorial, it would be the second monument removed within just a few months. The "Confederate Rock" on the Boone County Courthouse lawn will move to a Centralia battlefield.

Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson said when people come to seek justice at a courthouse, everyone should feel equal under the law.

"The issue, as outlined in Mr. Simon's opinion, is one of separation of church and state," Thompson said.

Thompson said the commissioners asked for the legal opinion of Simon because he is a well-respected attorney in the community with a "great legal mind."

Thompson said another monument would be erected to honor not only Desert Storm soldiers who lost their lives, but subsequent conflicts as well. 

The ichthus was covered last summer with a "Dedicated 1992" plaque in response to an inquiry about the symbol from Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Commissioners decided to cover the ichthus to avoid possible litigation over church-state separation issues.

The monument is in honor of those who served and for two men who gave their lives, Patrick Connor an Steven Farnen. It reads: "To the men who gave their lives, and the men and women who offered but, were spared."