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The 14 crosses erected along Utah roads to commemorate fallen state Highway Patrol troopers convey a state preference for Christianity and are a violation of the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The ruling reverses a 2007 decision by a federal district judge that said the crosses communicate a secular message about deaths and were not a public endorsement of religion. It's the latest in a recent rash of mixed-bag rulings on the public use of crosses.

A three-judge panel from Denver's 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its 38-page ruling that a "reasonable observer" would conclude that the state and the Utah Highway Patrol were endorsing Christianity with the cross memorials.

"This may lead the reasonable observer to fear that Christians are likely to receive preferential treatment from the UHP," the justices wrote.

The 12-foot high white crosses with 6-foot horizontal crossbars are affixed with the patrol's beehive logo and a biography of the deceased trooper.

First erected in 1998, monuments were paid for with private funds and erected only with the permission of the troopers' families. Nearly all of the 14 crosses are on public land.

Two men behind the cross project have said they selected crosses for the memorials because the image of a cross can simultaneously convey a message of death, remembrance, honor, gratitude and sacrifice.


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