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Hundreds rally in defense of memorial

May 2, 2012

Hundreds rally in defense of the Place Jolicoeur World War I Memorial in Woonsocket Wednesday, some carrying signs, many waving flags and holding photographs of deceased loved ones who gave their lives in defense of this country. (photo/Ernest A. Brown)

WOONSOCKET — An atheist group from Wisconsin may want the World War I monument bearing a prominent Latin cross removed, but a throng of people rallied around the marker yesterday with another idea, expressed in thunderous enthusiasm.
“It’s staying where it is,” boomed Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, former adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard. “It stays where it is, as it is, right here in the city of Woonsocket. A round of applause and cheers rose from the sea of faces as Centracchio’s voice boomed over a high-decibel PA system, “This is the line in the sand.”
Before last week, hardly anyone knew where or what Place Jolicoeur was. But a thousand people converged on the spot yesterday afternoon in a raucous show of support for the monument, which the Freedom From Religion Foundation calls a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
They arrived in shuttle buses or roared in on motorcycles, waving flags, wearing the signature emblems of veterans groups, and hoisting homemade posters bearing slogans in support of the monument. “Don’t cross God,” one said. “God Bless all Veterans, Past and Present. We Shall Not Be Moved,” said another. Many could be seen carrying homemade replicas of the cross on the disputed monument, made of wood or styrofoam posterboard.
Passing motorists beeped, sirens blared, and fists pumped in support of the rallying cry. When the rite opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, a roar rose above the monotone as the prayer reached the words, “under God.”
It was Centracchio who called for the rally last week, describing the FFRF’s stance as an overzealous attack on veterans.
The call quickly picked up steam with heavy promotion by WPRO radio personality John DePetro, who was on hand to introduce a string of speakers to the stage in front of Fire Station No. 2, including Bishop Thomas Tobin, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, and Lucien Jolicoeur, the nephew of the Pvt. William Jolicoeur, the soldier for whom the monument was originally dedicated in 1921.
Veterans turned out in force for the event, awash in American flags and other patriotic regalia. A number of state and local dignitaries turned out, including former State Police Supt. Brendan Doherty, a congressional contender, Barry Hinckley, who’s running for U.S. Senate, members of the City Council, State Rep. Jon D. Brien, State Sen. Roger Picard, and several clergymen.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin wasn’t there, but he issued a statement supporting a defense of the monument, calling the FFRF’s view “myopic.”
Bishop Tobin cast the dispute over the cross as a big-picture issue of a movement designed to push religion to the back seat of American life, and urged listeners to push back. He said it was just another example of the secular pressure that led to Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s awkward-sounding “holiday tree” last winter and the dispute over the prayer banner in Cranston.
“This is about presence of God in our lives and in our society,” he said. “These are attempts to render our society bereft of moral values. If we don’t stand up we are complicit in the death of God in our society.”
Revving up the crowd, he lavished spectators with praise as “American patriots,” saying, “I’m proud to stand here with you today to defend the presence of Christ in our lives.”
Fontaine made an impassioned pledge to “fight and fight and fight” against FFRF to save the cross, telling the crowd the City Council had just established a fund to raise money for a legal defense.
After he received a letter last month from FFRF explaining why the group wants the cross removed from the monument, the mayor said he researched the history of the marker and became more determined than ever to fight the group. After the monument was originally dedicated to Pvt. Jolicoeur in 1921 in a grand ceremony featuring Gen. Ferdinand Foch, the Grand Marshal of the Allied Forces in Europe, it was rechristened in 1952 to honor three brothers, Alexandre, Henri and Louis Gagne, all of whom were killed during World War II.
Their mother, Bernadette Gagne, didn’t “collapse in sorrow” or hide at home after the last of her sons was killed in Guam, said Fontaine. She became deeply involved in all the major veterans groups in the city.
“She organized the Gold Star Mothers in this area,” said Fontaine. “If Mrs. Gagne can give her three sons, I can give a fight for the monument.”
Fontaine thanked several members of the City Council, including President John Ward, Christopher Beauchamp, Vice President Dan Gendron and Robert Moreau, all in attendance, for backing the monument defense fund.
But Anthony DeQuattro, President of Operation StandDown RI, an advocacy group for homeless veterans, told the crowd that someone else is willing to pick up the entire tab for a possible legal showdown with FFRF: the American Legion.
At the conclusion of his speech in defense of the monument, DeQuattro said the national headquarters of the American Legion has agreed to pay the full freight of the legal battle, plus the cost of repairing the monument, which shows obvious signs of neglect.
Mickey Vadnais, national executive committeeman of the American Legion – the state’s top official for the veterans group – later confirmed the story.
He said he had received an unsolicited call from American Legion headquarters in Indiana with an offer to pick up the full cost of the legal battle and monument repairs. He said headquarters made the offer after hearing about the story on the national news.
Asked if there were any limits on the offer, Vadnais replied, “You’re playing at the national level. We’ve got 2.4 million members.”
The American Legion was just one of many veterans and religious group represented at the rally, in the parking lot of Woonsocket’s Fire Station No. 2. They wore everything from camouflage fatigues to the feathery hats of the Knights of Columbus. Most wore ordinary street clothes, but more than a few carried old, faded photographs of family members in uniform.
“My grandfather, my father, my two children,” explained Julie Brackett as she held up four framed images. As for the threatened cross, the Glocester resident said, “Leave it be. It doesn’t hurt anybody. I’m not a religious person by nature. I’m not offended by symbols, but these aren’t symbols. This is history. This is bigger than Woonsocket.”
The FFRF touched off the firestorm of controversy when its lawyers sent Fontaine a letter on April 13 demanding that the cross be removed from the monument, because it’s on public land. The organization calls the Latin cross, one of the most pervasive symbols in all Christianity, a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on state-sponsored religion, saying it wrote the letter on behalf of an individual who is “offended” by it.
The organization won’t identify that individual, but it says the person has no choice but to view the cross on a daily basis.
The national nonprofit, based in Madison, Wisc., has also taken issue with the image of an angel comforting a firefighter and the inclusion of “ The Fire Fighter’s Prayer” on the Woonsocket Fire Department’s web site, and it wants those removed as well.
Where the dispute goes from here is anyone’s guess. A lawyer for FFRF indicated last week that its next step depends on how the city responds to its demands and the FFRF finds out how the complainant wants to proceed.
Sammy Wellington, a seventh grader from Mt. St. Charles Academy who was among the featured speakers, said she really doesn’t understand much about separation of church and state, but it doesn’t matter.
“Moving the monument because somebody who drives by it every day is offended is wrong,” she said. “Even a seventh-grader can see that.”

Comments

MEMORIAL

May 4, 2012 by lisap (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1251

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND? WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE TO CHANGE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN LIKE THIS FOR YEARS!!! ARE THEY GOING TO TRY TO CHANGE IN GOD WE TRUST ON THE MONEY?? THIS COUNTRY HAS BEEN LIKE THIS AND KNOW WE HAVE PEOPLE THAT NONE OF THIS EFFECTS JUST WANTING TO CHANGE THINGS. LEAVE THINGS ALONE AND GET A LIFE!

The Cross Stand for LOVE

May 3, 2012 by Snoopys Woodstock (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1250

The cross stands for love.
How can love be illegal and disrespectful?

Which fireghter is the culprit?

May 3, 2012 by paulie1029 (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1246

He sees it every time her drive by it on his way to work. (Its not really visible from Cumberland Hill Road)It is highly visible if you are arriving to work at the WFD. He objects to the angel on the WFD website.

The 'annoyed person is likely a firefighter.

Atheists are among you

May 4, 2012 by GodVlogger - on YouTube (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1255

Paulie1029, You speculate regarding whether the local city resident complaining about the illegal cross is a fire-fighter or not.

My guess is that it could be ANYONE.

Non-christians make up about 25% of all citizens, including maybe 5-15% atheists, depending which stats you read (often statistically higher than the percent of gays or blacks in a given community, just for reference).

A recent Gallop Poll showed that Rhode Island is in the "Top Ten" LEAST religious states (only 53% of R.I. residents responded that religion was an important part of their lives!).

Here is the link at the official Gallup website:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/114022/State-States-Importance-Religion.aspx

My point is that nonreligious people are ALL around you. Nonbelievers no doubt make up some of your local doctors, lawyers, fire-fighters, police, politicians (although they may not openly admit it currently!), mailmen, nurses, school teachers, bus drivers, plumbers, electricians, house-wives, you-name-it. Even many clergy have started to admit they don't actually believe the mythology they preach (search "clergy project). It's ok. Just don't think that nonbelievers are some foreign invaders to be feared. They are already people who you know, respect, love, etc., just that you don't know that they doubt or dismiss the truth of your religion.

Cross

May 3, 2012 by bigpouliot (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1245

The people who rallied yesterday are the same people who would rally if there was a monument that had a budist, muslim, hindu or any other religions icon. There would be outrage. I also have a problem with saying a prayer before the city councel meeting. If i request a jewish or muslim prayer before the city council meeting, would I get it. Absolutely not. You either include all or none. Just because the majority is Cristian, doesn't meen that everyone is. The constitution says seperation of church and state. It is about time that is enforced.

The Constitution says

May 4, 2012 by Freedom over free stuff (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1254

The Constitution says separation of of church and state. Really? What Constitution are you talking about it, Obviously not the American. Those words are not even in the Constitution and have nothing to do with the original meaning of the first amendment. It all stems from case law which is a bunch of bull.

FFRF

May 3, 2012 by mtaillon (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1244

They probably don't realize it, but the FFRF has done more to unite the people of Woonsocket since the blizzard of 78.

REMOVE that ILLEGAL Cross

May 2, 2012 by GodVlogger - on YouTube (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1243

It doesn't matter how many people in the "majority" wish that they could use majority rule (mob rule) to dominate the government on matters of Religion... the US CONSTITUTION says otherwise.

The cross is ILLEGAL on government property, and in the end the courts will order its removal.

It is DISRESPECTFUL to the veterans to put an ILLEGAL icon on top of their memorial.

The money promised by outside groups will fade away, the city will lose the case in court, then the city will have to also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the attorneys for FFRF as part of the court settlement.

That's just the way it goes. Look at Cranston and the prayer banner in school... all it took was one bright, articulate, high school girl to point out that the banner had been ILLEGAL for many decades, and the courts determined that she was RIGHT.

Thus, it doesn't matter how many people WISH they were right, or PRAY they were right. If this goes to court the city will LOSE.

The solution: just remove the offending cross, have it put in a nice legal spot (like a church lawn, or at a private business, private home lawn, private club like a Veteran's Hall, etc.) and patch the actual memorial up nicely so it is legal and honorable to the veterans that it memorializes.

I have a few videos on YouTube about this Woonsocket cross for those who are interested.

~~ GodVlogger (on YouTube)

Constitution

May 3, 2012 by vvet818 (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1247

First, nowhere in the document is the phrase "separation of church and state" used. You are thinking of comments attributed to T. Jefferson but not incorporated into the document.
Second, the intent of article 1 was to prevent the government of the newly formed country from mandating a nationally sponsored religion such as what Great Britton had at the time.
Third, Salazar vs. Buono
Fourth, what's next, all the crosses at Arlington? Good luck with that.
Fifth, IT IS NOT DISRESPECTFUL as these fallen soldiers were members of that belief. You need to talk to veterans before you speak for us.
As far as Cranston goes, you aren't bullying children here.
Also, when a Vet's group buys the property, what will you say then?
Remember, we vets fought for everyone's right to worship as they see fit and WE EVEN FOUGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO BELIEVE IN NOTHING!
Thanks for your opinion but YOU may be disappointed this time.

Cross is ILLEGAL, per Constitution

May 4, 2012 by GodVlogger - on YouTube (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment: 1253

I have always acknowledged that the Constitution does not have the PHRASE "separation of church and state", just hopefully you can honestly acknowledge that it does NOT have the PHRASE "freedom of religion".

But the meaning of the First Amendment is well-established in ~200 years of legal study, case law, etc., to mean (as Thomas Jefferson himself explained it) that the Founding Fathers were implementing a "separation of church and state".

Most of your points are answered in my YouTube video titled "False Arguments: Woonsocket Cross Removal" (search it on YouTube if you like).

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