Crosses on the Beach
Home Misleading Crosses on the Beach at Santa Barbara – ACLU Suit Against Military Crosses And Prayer in the Military?

Crosses on the Beach at Santa Barbara – ACLU Suit Against Military Crosses And Prayer in the Military?

by Brett M. Christensen


Prayer request message that includes information and photographs about the temporary military memorial at Santa Barbara, California claims that the ACLU has filed lawsuits to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed and completely stop prayer in the military.

Brief Analysis

The Arlington West temporary memorials featured in the message are certainly real. The beach memorials are erected every Sunday at Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica, California. However, the claims in the message about supposed lawsuits filed by the ACLU are untrue.


Subject: ACLU I’m not breaking this one

The first picture and the last picture are taken at the beach in Santa Barbara right next to the pier. There is a veterans group that started putting a cross and candle for every death in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amazing thing is that they only do it on the weekends. They put up this graveyard and take it down every weekend.

Guys sleep in the sand next to it and keep watch over it at night so nobody messes with it. Every cross has the name, rank and D.O.B. and D.O.D. on it.

Very moving, very powerful??? So many young volunteers. So many 30 to 40 year olds as well.

Amazing !

Did you know that the ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed?

Arlington West 1

And another suit to end prayer from the military completely. They’re making great progress.

The Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus’ name in prayer thanks to the ACLU and our new administration.

Arlington west 2

I’m not breaking this one.

Arlington West 3

If I get it a 1000 times, I’ll forward it a 1000 times!

Please, let us pray…
Please send this on after a short prayer. Prayer for our soldiers Don’t break it!

‘Heavenly Father, hold our troops in Your loving hands.
Protect them as they protect us.
Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in this our time of need. Amen.’



Detailed Analysis

This message has circulated widely via email, blogs and social networking websites. The message includes information and photographs about a memorial of crosses that is erected every weekend on a beach at Santa Barbara as a tribute to soldiers who lost their lives in US conflicts.

The message asks recipients to say a prayer for soldiers and pass on the information to others. It also claims that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed lawsuits to have all cross-shaped headstones removed from military cemeteries and to end prayer in the military completely. It further declares that, due to previous action by the ACLU, “Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus’ name in prayer”.

The information in the message about the beach memorial is basically correct. However, as discussed in detail later in this article the claims in the message about the ACLU are unfounded.
The first and last photographs in the message show the temporary memorial located at Santa Barbara, California. The second photograph shows another temporary memorial located at Santa Monica, California. Both are known as Arlington West. Dedicated volunteers install the memorials every Sunday. Information on the Arlington West Santa Monica website notes:

Each Sunday from sunrise to sunset, a temporary memorial appears next to the world-famous pier at Santa Monica, California. This memorial, known as Arlington West, a project of Veterans For Peace, offers visitors a graceful, visually and emotionally powerful, place for reflection.

A Wikipedia article about Arlington West explains:

The memorial in Santa Barbara, California, which was first put together on November 2, 2003 by local activist Stephen Sherrill, was soon adopted by the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. It is installed each Sunday by a team of volunteers on the beach immediately west of Stearns Wharf. Visitors walking to the tourist attractions on the wharf have a clear view, from the boardwalk, along the beach with the white crosses in the foreground. From the walkway, visitors can see a flag-draped coffin and more than 3,000 crosses, made of wood, which are intended to resemble and represent traditional military grave markers. In addition to the simulated graveyard, a placard listing all the fallen American military personnel since the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq is prominently displayed; this list is updated weekly. Due to logistical constraints, the number of new crosses was halted at just over 3000 even though the latest death toll has exceeded 4400. Adjacent to the placards is a sign containing the message: “At 3000 crosses, the Arlington West Memorial is 141 feet wide and 310 feet long. A memorial for the Iraqi dead would be 141 feet wide and 12.8 miles long.”

The second Arlington West was installed in Santa Monica, California on February 15, 2004, a Sunday. It was built on the sand just north of the pier at Santa Monica Beach, “as a way to acknowledge the costs and consequences of the addiction to war as an instrument of international policy” (quote from Veterans for Peace). Like the initial memorial in Santa Barbara, it has been reinstalled each Sunday and Fourth of July since its inception.

The following YouTube video provides further details about the Arlington West project:

There are a number of other similar temporary memorials in various locations across the United States. The memorials are certainly a very moving and heartfelt tribute to fallen soldiers.

However, the claims the message makes about the ACLU are untrue. In fact the same false claims about the ACLU have circulated in various forms for a number of years. Each claim made in the message is discussed in turn below:

Claim: The ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed.

This claim is false. Similar claims have been circulating since at least 2003. In its website FAQ, the ACLU notes:

The ACLU has never pursued the removal of religious symbols from personal gravestones. In fact, following lawsuits filed by the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to allow family members to include a religious symbols on headstones.

The ACLU has long argued that veterans and their families should be free to choose religious symbols on military headstones — whether Crosses, Stars of David, Pentacles, or other symbols — and that the government should not be permitted to restrict such religious expression in federal cemeteries.

Claim: The ACLU has filed a suit to end prayer in the military completely.

This claim is false. The ACLU has previously stated that it objects to forcing midshipmen to participate in the Naval Academy’s compulsory “noon meal prayers.” However, the ACLU has not filed a suit to stop prayer in the military.

In a letter sent in May 2008, to Vice Admiral Jeffrey L. Fowler on behalf of a group of midshipmen who objected to the prayers, Deborah A. Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland, noted:

“Members of the military have a right to pray or not pray as they personally see fit, and that right is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is one of the fundamental rights they put their lives on the line to defend in service to their country,” said Jeon. “But the government should not be in the business of compelling religious observance, particularly in military academies, where students can feel coerced by senior students and officials and risk the loss of leadership opportunities for following their conscience.”

The press release about the letter also notes:

In the letter, Jeon makes clear that the ACLU opposes compulsory religious services mandated by the government, not voluntary religious exercises by Academy midshipmen.

Claim: Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus’ name in prayer thanks to the ACLU and our new administration.

This claim is false. This claim is apparently derived from the case of former Navy Chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt who accused the Navy of “anti-Jesus persecution of chaplains.” However, neither the ACLU nor the “new administration” played any role in the Klingenschmitt case. An article about the issue on notes:

Praying in Jesus’ Name

Also false is the e-mail’s claim that “[t]he Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus’ name in prayer thanks to the retched [sic] ACLU and our new administration.”

Later versions of this e-mail corrected the misspelling of “wretched” but still mangled the facts about the case of former Navy Chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt, to which the message likely alludes. A favorite of religious conservatives, Klingenschmitt accused his Navy superiors of pushing chaplains to offer generic, nonsectarian prayers. On his Web site, where he now solicits donations, news interviews and speaking engagements, he describes himself as “The Navy Chaplain who dared to pray ‘in Jesus’ name’ ” and says he was “court-martialed for praying in Jesus’ name in uniform outside the White House.” He accuses the Navy of “anti-Jesus persecution of chaplains.”

Actually, the Navy court-martialed Klingenschmitt for disobeying an order. He appeared – in uniform – with others at a news conference to protest the president’s inaction on his complaints against the Navy. The event was in Lafayette Square, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Klingenschmitt said he was merely offering a public prayer. The military prosecutor said Klingenschmitt had been ordered not to wear his uniform at media events or political protests, and that the event was not a true worship service. A jury of five officers found him guilty of disobeying a lawful order and punished him with a reprimand and temporary reduction in pay. He left the Navy soon after.

Regardless of the merits or demerits of Klingenschmitt’s case, the ACLU had nothing to do with it. ACLU spokesman Will Matthews told us in an exchange of e-mails that “the ACLU was never involved in the case of Gordon Klingenschmitt.” In our research we’ve uncovered no news accounts that describe any role by the ACLU.

Furthermore, Klingenschmitt’s removal from the Navy was not the doing of “the new administration,” as this e-mail claims. Klingenschmitt’s court-martial took place in 2006. The president who was in the White House, and whose support Klingenschmitt unsuccessfully sought, was George W. Bush.

Another long running hoax message claims that an ACLU spokesperson named “Lucius Traveler” objected to a group of US Marines bowing their heads in prayer during a military ceremony. However, the ACLU has denied any knowledge of a spokesperson by that name.