Soldier Memorial Founder ‘Will Go to Jail’ Before Taking Down Crosses

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ALBIA, Iowa -- The Welcome Home Solider Monument in Monroe County is under the microscope of a national organization.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State claims the monument violates the First Amendment.

The monument, located just west of the Albia city limits at 6451 Highway 34, honors more than 1,500 veterans. It includes 21 marble crosses, 100 American flags and a 200-foot marble wall.

"I have such a love for those who gave us our freedom and the older I get I just love what they've done for us," says Jim Keller, Founder of the Welcome Home Soldier Monument.

Keller says a 28-E agreement was filed with the county to build the monument on seven acres of the county's land. Voters also passed a measure allowing 45 percent of hotel-motel tax to go towards maintaining the grounds, and $11,000 is slated to go towards maintenance.

But none of that money has been spent, partly because of the letter sent by Americans United to the Monroe County supervisors.

"The county kept the land and by Iowa code we can let the soldier`s monument use it for this and we did," said Monroe County Board Supervisor John Hughes.

In the letter, Americans United, says the use of government resources to support religious displays is a violation of the First Amendment and asks that the crosses be removed and government funds returned.

The organization says it received one complaint that prompted it to look into the monument.

"It really hurt because it was anonymous. If they would have come to us and talked to us, I don't think I would have been able to change their mind but at least I would have had the opportunity to.  I will not take down the crosses. Personally, I will not do it. I will go to jail before I’ll ever do that," said Keller.

The Monroe County Attorney's Office has drafted a reply to Americans United. It stands by the monument and is confident everything was done legally.

"The County is on board we went ahead and did this the legal way and it is done the correct way," Hughes said.