April 30, 2006
By Dan Lavoie
War opponent, atheist strongly objects to Burbank sticker
The soldier's silhouette leans against his rifle as he kneels at the foot of a small cross.
For more than six years, that veterans' memorial has stood at a busy Burbank intersection without complaint. But when the city decided to make it the centerpiece of the 2006-07 vehicle sticker, that riled lifelong resident Nichole Schultz.
As an atheist and an opponent of the Iraq War, the 23-year-old resents being required to plaster a cross on her windshield.
"I find it offensive," the Reavis High School grad said. "I don't want Christian symbolism on my car. If I wanted that, I could have gone out and got one of those Jesus fish. You can't force people to walk around with a cross on their neck. How can you force them to wear one on their car?"
But Mayor Harry Klein, whose name adorns the sticker, dismissed her complaints. The cross, he said, doesn't represent Christianity. It just stands for the graves of fallen soldiers, like the thousands of small crosses that dot the fields at Normandy.
"All this is ludicrous," he said. "What we're saying on the vehicle sticker is, 'Thanks, guys and girls.' It has nothing to do with Christianity. It's all about the veterans."
So far, Schultz is the only person to complain to the city about the sticker, Klein said.
But few residents have seen it. The new stickers aren't required on cars until May 31.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago, said the sticker could present issues for some in Burbank's large Muslim population.
"Personally, it would not make me uncomfortable," he said. "On the other hand, I can understand other people's concern. Veterans from America's wars can also be Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist. Some people will view (the sticker) as a strike against pluralism."
The cross, though most always associated with Christianity, actually predates Christ as a symbol for life, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Klein thinks the cross needn't have religious significance because it has become such a common grave marker.
"It's not like there's anyone hanging on it," Klein said.
The memorial pictured on the sticker sits on a small triangle of land surrounded by State Road, 85th Street and Melvina Avenue. Beside the wooden silhouette stands a 5-foot-tall marble slab engraved with a dedication to the nation's fallen soldiers.
A large lightning bolt sculpture entitled "War is Hell" juts from the ground behind the silhouette, representing "the horror and devastation caused by war," according to plaque beneath it.
Schultz, who was raised Catholic and gave up religion while at college in Florida, said she wouldn't want the memorial pictured on the sticker even without the cross because it intrinsically promotes war.
She's hoping that the city will give her an alternative sticker for the year, though city officials told her that's impossible.
"If you did want to honor veterans, have a purple heart or someone saluting the flag," Schultz said. "That would be better symbolism. But I still don't think you should be telling people they have to honor veterans, whether they want to or not."
Dan Lavoie may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 633-5994.
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