Mother Removes Cross Memorial After Dispute With Atheist Rights Group

Ann Marie Devaney placed the cross near where her son was struck and killed. She plans to remove it after demands from a resident who complained it violates the Constitution

A long-running dispute involving the mother of a Southern California man who was killed as he crossed a street and an atheist rights group appeared to head to a conclusion Thursday with the planned removal of roadside crosses she placed in his memory.

The removal comes after an organization that promotes the rights of atheists and other nonreligious people called the cross on city-owned property a "serious constitutional violation" in a letter to city council of Lake Elsinore, a western Riverside County community.

"It's like I'm losing my son again, pretty much," said Ann Marie Devaney, through tears, as she removed two crosses. "It hurts when you lose a child."

But just as she removed the crosses, a group of people put up six more.

"It just really got to me," Emily Johnson, . "I have kids. I just can't believe how insensitive people are."

Devaney had placed the white crosses on the side of Lake Street near a freeway exit ramp after her 19-year-old son was killed in May 2012. Anthony Devaney was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle driver as he crossed the street near the 15 Freeway.

Nearly two years later, she removed the crosses after a Lake Elsinore resident and the American Humanist Association pursued the symbol's removal with the city.

Ann Marie Devaney arrived at the site early Thursday to mourn her son, hours before she removed the tribute.

"It's so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross," she said. "It's his personal preference that he was Christian. What's wrong with having a cross up?"

The mother of the teen driver who struck and killed Anthony Devaney was among the cross visitors Thursday morning. She told NBC4 Southern California she opposes the cross removal.

"That's their memorial, that's where they go to grieve," said Laurie Howanec.

The American Humanist Association also successfully fought Lake Elsinore's plan for a veterans monument that depicted a service member kneeling next to a cross at a grave site. In a February ruling, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the planned memorial -- which must be redesigned -- at a minor league baseball stadium was unconstitutional.

In its letter to the City Council, the group cites complaints about Devaney's cross memorial from a Lake Elsinore resident. The city removed the cross in December 2013 after requests from the resident, but Devaney returned the cross to the property.

The resident contacted the city again last month and was told the cross would be removed by mid-March, according to the letter.

"The city's selective enforcement of its signage ordinance and its display of the Christian cross on government property violates the state and federal Constitutions, and must therefore be removed immediately," the letter states.

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