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Mayor defends war memorial after group calls for removal of cross

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A national atheist organization is seeking to remove this cross from a 91-year-old war memorial in Woonsocket, R.I., claiming it violates separation of church and state.

A mayor has come to the defense of a war memorial that features religious symbols and prayers after a national group called for the cross to be removed.

"Place Jolicoeur" is a 91-year-old memorial in a Rhode Island city that honors hometown soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice defending their country during World War I and II, MyFoxBoston.com reports.

It has stood in the parking lot of the Woonsocket fire station for decades with no complaints, until earlier this year when the Freedom from Religion Foundation called for it to be stripped of the cross, claiming it violates the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause. 

The group also wants the Woonsocket Fire Department to remove “The Firefighter’s Prayer” and a picture of an angel from its website.

“We ask that you immediately remove the cross from the Fire Station parking lot and remove the prayer and angel from the Woonsocket Fire Department website,” the foundation’s senior staff attorney, Rebecca Market, wrote in a letter to Woonsocket officials earlier this year.

But at an event Friday, Mayor Leo Fontaine reaffirmed earlier statements that the group’s request will not be met without a fight. “We will defend this monument no matter what,” he told MyFoxBoston.com. Fontaine said the monument is a symbol of the community, and the city is prepared to fight to keep the monument where it stands.

While the city is currently facing the possibility of bankruptcy, residents have rallied to raise $18,500 for a defense fund should the Freedom from Religion Foundation decide to file a lawsuit.

Fontaine has said that the city will not remove the cross, “under any circumstances.”

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