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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Roadside memorials have become so numerous, distracting and dangerous, that more and more states are regulating them. Besides the dangers they create, those who erect them are effectively making a private claim to public property through adverse possession. This runs afoul of the law. This was the subject of a 2001 case in Colorado in which Rodney Scott was tried in a criminal court for \desecrating an object venerated by the public.\
Those markers which are not permanently set are considered simply abandoned refuse and can be picked up and taken by anyone who has a mind to. Left unchecked, this practice would eventually leave the highways littered with crosses, flags, flowers, etc. Consider this exerpt from the Colorado Court's decision:
County court, County of Adams, State of Colorado Criminal Action No. 00- M-2096.
The people of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff, v. Rodney Lyle Scott, Defendant.
The hearing in this matter commenced on the 5th day of April, 2001, before the Honorable Jeffrey L. Romeo, Judge of the County Court, Division VI....
In regard to the facts, this memorial was put up by family members, the stepfather and some friends . . . on a public right-of-way, at Colfax and I-70. There's no dispute about that. This is a piece of public ground; it is not private; there was no authorization to do that. And, as Mr. Hopkins states, virtually quote, they \cannot give permission to put memorials on state property.\ They have no authority to do that. It's state property. . . . Once it's put up, technically it is abandoned property. It is abandoned as a matter of law.
...adverse possession. In this particular case, if I were to accept the District Attorney's theory as proposed in its memorandum, essentially it would allow people to adversely possess land against the people of the State of Colorado....
Under *43-1-421, no person other than the Department of Transportation . . . may without written approval of the Department erect or maintain any \advertising device.\ Now, here's the sticking point that I'm sure may confuse especially lay people, but not the attorneys. \Advertising device\ under the statute does not mean what you may think it means.
\Advertising device\ you may think means billboards . . . the old Burma Shave signs, those sorts of things. This Colorado Supreme Court decided in the case of George W. Pigg v. Department of Highways, 746 P. 2nd, 961 (1987), this statute applies to noncommercial speech...
Finally, another statute that needs to be considered is *18-4-511, Littering of Public or Private Property.
It says, \Any person who deposits, throws, or leaves any litter on a public or private property or waterways, commits littering.\ Littering is a Class 2 petty offense, punishable by a mandatory fine and could be up to a thousand dollars on a second conviction.
Litter has a legal definition, and the Court is bound by the legal definition, not what someone may think is used in Webster's dictionary or might be used in common conversation. It does in fact constitute litter upon the highway. It's a Class 2 petty offense to do that.
The Court finds that here we have abandoned property on a public roadway, not placed there with authorization, in contravention of at least four public policies, and the Legislature has refused in fact to protect these roadside memorials. To allow them would be to allow people to adversely possess land against the state. They constitute an advertising device in violation of that statute. This particular one constitutes a danger, a hazardous substance being placed there, and constitutes litter, two of those being criminal statutes....
It would be a legal and logical absurdity to say that this is litter on one hand but must be venerated in the very next second.... Therefore, the Court finds as a matter of law, this roadside memorial is not a venerated object. Therefore, the Court must grant judgment of acquittal.
Consider also the point that atheists and other non-christians find them offensive, annoying and depressing. When you do see them, remove them as soon as possible. Every day that they stand gives some motorists the impression that the State condones religious symbols being placed along the road on State or Federal property. There is nothing stopping an individual from taking down these religious symbols. For your safety, if you are going to remove these objects, remember to park off the highway in a parking lot, on a side street, or well over on the shoulder. If you will have to walk far along the highway, get yourself an orange hunting vest or (preferably) a reflective safety vest available at most building supply stores. Be sure you are not venturing onto private property.
The Department of Transportation in your State can take one of four positions on roadside crosses: A) They can provide or erect them for victims' families, in which case a suit should be filed immediately. B) They can sanction them by law (also likely unconstitutional) C) They can ignore the religious memorials erected by families and not remove them. D) They can disapprove of them and remove them.
According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the state has no official policy or written protocol, no legally mandated \dos or don'ts\ about memorials put up along Michigan's interstate and state highways. In 2005, Michigan Rep. Neal Nitz (R-Baroda) of Berrien County introduced legislation that would ban homemade roadside memorials on state roads in favor of uniform MDOT signs -- similar to the familiar Adopt-A-Highway signs -- that include the deceased's name, as well as the message \Drive Safely.\ Nitz's bill \died\ during the legislature's last session. There are no plans to re-introduce the bill.
The Michigan Vehicle Code, Public Act 300 of 1949, Section 257.615, prohibits the placement
of any signs in the road right-of-way that may distract or obstruct the view of the public to see traffic enforcement signs, that blink or resemble traffic control devices and/or that may create a hazard. The Michigan Vehicle Code further provides that the public authority having jurisdiction over the highway, (a road commission), is empowered to remove from the right-of-way any such sign as a public nuisance. The State of Michigan Highway Advertising
Act, Public Act 106 of 1972, also prohibits the placement of signs along state roads and major highways, without the issuance of a permit from the Michigan Department of Transportation. Per Section 252.318, this Act prohibits the placement of signs or sign structures that prevent the driver of a motor vehicle from having a clear and unobstructed view of approaching, intersecting or merging traffic. It also prohibits signs that are abandoned, in poor repair and/or that interfere with or resemble any official traffic sign, signal or device.
Finally, in Federal law, 23 U.S.C. 131 provides that \signs not permitted under §750.704 of this regulation must be removed by the State.\ Roadside memorials are not listed among those types of signs that are permitted (official directional signs, certain commercial advertising, etc.). So regardless of State law, displays on the Interstate right-of-way can be protested.
Status of the law by State:
Alabama - ?
Alaska - permitted for 2 years with some restrictions.
Arizona - Do not remove state or county memorials.
Arkansas - state highway department allows them to remain only a few days.
California - may be removed.
Colorado - Do not remove state or county memorials.
Connecticut - ?
DC - ?
Delaware - prohibits
Florida - only state-sanctioned markers
Georgia - only state-sanctioned markers
Hawaii - ?
Idaho - permitted.
Illinois - ?
Indiana - ?
Iowa - ?
Kansas - ?
Kentucky - ?
Louisiana - may be removed.
Maine - ?
Maryland - prohibits
Massachusetts - prohibits
Michigan - ?
Minnesota - not permitted on interstates or freeways. Only allowed for 6 months on state highways and other roads.
Mississippi - ?
Missouri - prohibits
Montana - ?
Nebraska - ?
Nevada - Only NDOT erected Roadside Memorial Markers allowed for 2 years.
New Jersey - See policy #19:2-5.10
New Hampshire - ?
New Mexico - passed a law making it a petty misdemeanor to \willfully deface or destroy\
New York - leaves it up to municipalities
North Carolina - prohibits
North Dakota - ?
Ohio - ?
Oklahoma - ?
Oregon - prohibits
Pennsylvania - Leaves it up to individual transportation authority districts. (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority \SEPTA\ prohibits placement.)
Rhode Island - ?
South Carolina - ?
South Dakota - ?
Tennessee - ?
Texas - only state-sanctioned markers
Utah - prohibits
Vermont - ?
Washington - only state-sanctioned markers
Wyoming - only state-sanctioned markers
(Some content found on www.atheistactivist.org)
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