An estimated crowd of between 1,500 – 2000 people attended a rally on Sunday at Young’s Park in Knoxville in support of the memorial placed near the Freedom Rock.
The memorial depicts a soldier kneeling at the graveside of a fallen comrade, and part of the memorial is a depiction of a cross. The Washington D.C. based organization “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” sent a letter to the Knoxville City Council, asking them to take the memorial down after a local anonymous resident complained about it, saying they were offended by the religious imagery on public land.
Created by Vietnam Veteran Al Larson in honor of a fallen friend, speakers in support of the cross on the memorial included Larson, former Knoxville Mayor Don Zoutte, City Council Member Dawn Allspach-Kline, State Senator Amy Sinclair, State Representative Greg Heartsill, and event organizers Doug Goff and Albert Bregar. Speakers were united in saying that all veterans are honored by the imagery, and that the community should resist every effort to have the cross removed.
Roger Byron, veteran and attorney for the Liberty Institute of Plano, TX told the crowd that their organization has offered to represent the city council and other veterans organizations involved for free.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State believes that it isn’t appropriate for a cross to be used to memorialize all veterans, given that not all veterans are Christians. To quote their website, the cross in Knoxville “doesn’t honor veterans; in fact, it disrespects some veterans by not including them.” They have a suggestion for the city of Knoxville: “Why not erect a memorial in the park that honors all of the town’s veterans? The existing “memorial,” which was erected without permission, is crudely fashioned and simple. Take it down and put something up that’s professionally made, inclusive and, most importantly, non-sectarian.”
Don Zoutte and Senator Sinclair insisted that the memorial would not come down “on their watch.” Representative Heartsill said that city leaders should support the memorial as is, but recognizes that it could involve considerable legal expense, and that supporters should be ready to reach for their wallets should financial support be needed.
Albert Bregar, one of the organizers, tells KNIA/KRLS News that he was pleased with the turnout, and that eight presidential candidates offered to speak at the event. He says organizers decided not to allow them to speak, because if they did, the event would be about the candidates, not about the memorial. Bregar adds that Donald Trump’s staff offered their campaign bus to shuttle people to and from the event.
The video from the drone above is courtesy of Steve Shafer of Knoxville.
Here are some photos from the event: