The caretaker of a Massachusetts community park is daring town officials to take down a cross he put up after he was told to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The statue had been in Veterans Memorial Park for more than a decade until last week, when a Marshfield, Massachusetts, town official said he had received a complaint, according to WYCN-TV.
“Two weeks ago I got an email from one of our residents wanting to know why there was a religious statue on a piece of town land,” Town Administrator Michael Maresco said.
Park caretaker Peter Dowd, 76, said he set up the statue over a decade ago as a memorial for a family that had suffered a loss.
“They come down here — the two little kids and it looked like they were with their grandmother and grandfather and when I left here to go home I looked and I saw over there and they put in bricks and chalk in memory of mom and dad,” Dowd said. “It hit my heart, hit me bad.”
Dowd took the statue home, painted it and set it by the bricks. He said the family has returned from time to time over the years and left objects by the memorial.
The caretaker initially seemed to acquiesce in the statue’s removal, keeping it at his home.
On Thursday, however, Dowd posted a defiant message on Facebook, sharing a photo of a white cross where the statue had been, according to The Patriot Ledger.
“See who complains about this at veterans park,” Dowd wrote, according to a screenshot of the post published by The Patriot Ledger. “If so, all crosses on the side of roads will have to be taken down for the deceased or killed in a accidents in Massachusetts roads on public land.”
Some Marshfield residents have expressed their outrage at the removal of the first memorial, WBZ-TV reported.
“With the age of computers it is very easy for people to sit down and say whatever they want to say,” Maresco said, referring to online comments criticizing the town’s actions. “I think it was like maybe 200-300 [comments], I didn’t take time to count them all but it was a substantial amount.”
Maresco said he was seeking guidance on whether the cross would be legally considered a religious symbol. If so, it would have to go as well, he said, according to The Patriot Ledger.
“Reading the United States Constitution, it says all religious symbols,” Maresco said. “I would say a cross is religious.”
“This becomes an issue because this violates the U.S Constitution,” he said. “It’s not something that we just decide we’re anti-religious statues, the Constitution protects that you can’t have any religious artifacts, whether it’s Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Episcopalian, Wiccan, you name it.”
Maresco noted that the park is owned by the town and that Dowd is paid from town funds.
“The bottom line is it falls under the Constitution, whether people like it or not.”
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