KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- The Knoxville City Council has decided to direct its staff to look into how they can privatize the land at a city park that a soldier memorial sits on.
At a city council meeting that was held at the Knoxville Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, the passions of those in attendance were on full display and they were strong. Don Zoutte of Knoxville spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, and while addressing the city council and the hundreds of people who showed up for the meeting, he said the memorial really was a piece of Al Larsen's heart, adding "don`t think about that as a cross that needs to come down. You have to stand for something and it`s time to stand for it now."
That line drew loud applause and a standing ovation as did other comments spoken throughout the night in support of the memorial.
Emotions ran high at the meeting, and nearly two hours was spent on the issue of the memorial . People came from near and far to make and state their case that the cross should not be removed. "Keep the cross. If you want to add other memorials to it fine, but the cross stays. Don`t remove it and remember we are the people, the people are speaking, and the people will vote, and the people are here to say as our forefathers did, 'don`t tread on us,'" said one man who spoke at the meeting.
Another man that spoke, 84-year-old Bob Smith, said "I just think it`s sad. I think it`s sad that we`re losing the battle, that every vestige of Christianity is someday in this country going to be lost, if we don`t stand up, and do something in our generation."
Some offered compromises and proposals of putting up other religious symbols at the park or a memorial that has no religious affiliation at all as possible solutions that would resolve any objections from anyone who might be offended by the current memorial on government property. However, many at the meeting said they were tired of being bullied and pushed around and that keeping the cross meant preserving freedom and religious liberty.
Ultimately, the council decided to avoid a legal battle and instead look into privatizing the land the memorial is on. "I was really disappointed. We were threatened with a lawsuit. There is no lawsuit as of today and they backed down. They just, it just irks me....Stand up to these guys...if we don’t stand up here, there’s gonna be another town getting sued, and another town getting sued when does it stop?" said Merrill Williams of Knoxville. Williams went on to say, "I'm really, really disappointed with the city council. If they run for re-election, they definitely should not be re-elected."
Knoxville resident Doug Goff has been a very vocal supporter of the memorial and after the city council meeting Tuesday night, he said, "I’m happy because we found a way to keep our memorial. That’s what this has been about. that’s what this whole fight has been about, is keeping our memorial. I’m disappointed that the city council didn’t take a stand and show a little bit of brass, but it is what it is."
The memorial display is a silhouette of a soldier kneeling at a cross, and it is at Youngs Park in Knoxville. The memorial was created and put up at the park by Al Larsen, a Vietnam Veteran who wanted to honor the memory of his best friend who died in combat during the Vietnam War.
Knoxville City leaders say an anonymous resident complained to them that they were offended by the memorial. The Washington D.C. based organization "Americans United for Separation for Church and State" later sent a letter to the City asking them to remove the memorial from the city park, saying having it on government property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The organization has said it would consider legal options if the City of Knoxville did not remove the memorial voluntarily.