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Christian crosses and other home-made religious road side memorials are typically used to mark where a family member or friend was killed in a highway accident.

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The situation in Oregon:

In the year 2000, State Senator Marilyn Shannon (R-Salem) promoted a bill to legalize private roadside memorials. She wanted the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to establish some reasonable guidelines so that people can install and maintain their own memorials. She told reporters: "I believe ODOT should be filling potholes, not posting memorials...That's not their job."

Apparently in response to this bill, some strange signs mysteriously appeared along Highway 22 and 99E in Oregon on 2000-JAN-23. The perpetrator(s) remain unknown. The markers were all crosses with unusual additions:

bulletA Nazi Swastika symbol.
bulletThe letters "KKK," apparently a reference to a infamous anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-homosexual and anti-communist organization.
bulletA slash mark, which is the international symbol for "do not" or "none." 
bulletThe number "666" which is used in the Book of Revelation in the Christian Scriptures to refer to the Antichrist. 
bulletA skull and crossbones symbol, typically used to indicate poison or death.

Letters to the Editor that were critical of the use of Christian were sent to a local newspaper. The writer complains that crosses are offensive and inappropriate. The author wrote that the defaced  signs were intended to "memorialize the tragic loss of common sense."

Although the markings symbolized Nazism, racial hatred, religious hatred, homophobia, hatred of Communists, Christianity, and death, Senator Shannon allegedly stated that she: "knew all along this was about atheists not wanting to see crosses on a public right of way." According to a Statesman-Journal newspaper article by Abe Estimada "Shannon said she  believes the signs are the work of atheists who oppose the symbol of the cross and the Christian faith it represents." The atheist theme was picked up by the ReligionToday news service. They stated that "Atheists and Christians are on a collision course over roadside memorials in Oregon.

The authorities were unable to determine who the perpetrator was. If the symbols that he/she used are any indication, he/she/they might be a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, anti-semite, homophobe, Christian or anti-Christian. The slash symbol might even indicate a person who supports the separation of church and state. There were no indications that an atheist was involved.

Dave Fidanque, spokesperson for the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union, commented that if the state allows religious memorials it must also allow markers by atheists or any other group. "Once you open the door, you open the door to all kinds of memorials...You might not be very happy with what happens down that road..."

Senator Shannon's bill did not proceed. Oregon now prohibits all roadside shrines and memorials. 2

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  1. ReligionToday news summary for 2000-JAN-27.
  2. Al Tompkins, "Thursday Edition: Roadside Memorials," Al's Morning Meeting, 2005-JUL-13, at: http://www.poynter.org/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-30
Latest update: 2006-JUN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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