Controversy in Vero Beach over cross on monument

Controversy in Vero Beach over the cross on a monument. (WPEC)

The Veteran’s Memorial Island Sanctuary in Vero Beach is at the center of a controversy.

Earlier this year, a local veteran, contacted the Freedom from Religion Foundation stating a monument at the monument needed to be changed. The monument is the first one on the right when walking across the bridge on to the island. It has a cross on top, which this veteran said needed to be removed.

In August, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the City of Vero Beach asking them to remove the cross. The letter stated id, in part, “it is unlawful for a city or government to display patently religious symbols on city property.”

Just last week, the city council discussed the issue and heard from community members. However, the city decided to leave the monument as is.

The City Manager, James O’Connor, stressed the island is a sanctuary and needs to remain that way.

“I think the majority of the veterans of Indian River County, 15,400 to be exact, support the monument as it is," said Colonel Darryle "Sam" Kouns, the President of Indian River Veteran's Council.

Kouns said the monument has been there for years, so it shouldn't be changed now.

He said a cross doesn't mean only one religion is welcome.

"There are many soldiers and sailors and marines of all religions represented there," said Kouns.

However, not everyone feels that way.

"This is not a religious place. A cross belongs on private property and in churches," said Philip Katrovitz.

He said he served in the military and wants to see the cross removed.

"I can see no reason to bring religion into Memorial Island," said Katrovitz.

Rebecca S. Markert, the Legal Director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said now they have to figure out what steps to take now. She did say legal action was on the table.

The City Manager said if a lawsuit is filed, they’re prepared.

Markert added it’s in the best interest of the city to remove the cross.

She said they are currently working on a similar case in Pensacola, Florida. The won the case in district court and are now going through an appeals process.

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