The Legal Entanglements Of Roadside Memorials
By Amy E. Feldman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - With so much grief felt by the community near Sandy Hook Elementary – and the nation as a whole – it is no wonder that memorials of flowers, plants, wreaths, stuffed animals, and signs sprung up all over the town. The job fell to 20 town workers to spend hours removing the memorials and sending them to a storage facility where they could be ground down and processed into foundation bricks for a permanent monument. But one needs look only to the nearest highway in one’s own backyard to see memorials to victims of traffic accident and other tragedies.
Those spontaneous memorials also present legal issues for townships which have begun to regulate them. While the people who create the memorials do so with the best intentions, they may not realize that they are using public land for a private purpose – a shrine to a private citizen. And while not meant to disrespect others, these memorials often contain crosses or other religious symbols which present first amendment problems for municipalities when they’re erected on public land.
And finally, the roadside remembrances to those who have lost their lives in traffic actually distract drivers and can lead to other accidents. As a result, states and municipalities have begun to regulate or even outlaw them.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, before putting up a memorial on the site of the tragedy, determine if there is a charity that can make better use of the money you’d spend on a display that may, by law, need to be removed.