Ichthus at base of Desert Storm memorial causes controversy

An ichthus, or "Jesus fish," at the base of the Desert Storm memorial on the lawn of the Boone County Courthouse is stirring controversy. The original ichthus on the memorial was covered up in 2014, but someone recently added a new one. The dispute is over the fact that the ichthus is a religious symbol on government property.

COLUMBIA — The war memorial featuring a "Jesus fish" symbol will not remain on county property.

The Boone County Commission voted Tuesday to relocate the Desert Storm Memorial, which included an engraved ichthus, from the courthouse plaza to the Columbia Cemetery. A new memorial, funded by the county and without the symbol, will be put in its place.

The vote accepted the legal opinion of Columbia lawyer B. Daniel Simon, which stated that the presence of the ichthus at the courthouse violated the separation of church and state under the state and federal constitutions.

The decision comes nearly a week after the commission received a letter from the families of Patrick Connor and Steven Farnen, the two Boone County soldiers honored by the memorial. The letter said the families were willing to allow the ichthus to remain covered as long as the memorial remained at the courthouse.

During the public comment Thursday, Farnen's parents, Hugh and Gladys Farnen, said the commission wasn't willing to consider their views.

"I hate the idea," Farnen said of having the ichthus remain covered. "But we were willing to compromise. It looks like y'all don't want to do anything that breaks from what y'all want."

The public comment occurred after the commission voted to approve the relocation.

Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said that replacing the current memorial with a new design allows it to honor more soldiers who served in more recent conflicts, in addition to Connor and Farnen. At least one Boone County soldier who died has yet to be memorialized, Atwill said.

The commission covered the engraved ichthus with a stone plaque in 2014, after the county received a records request regarding the memorial from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The decision, done without a public hearing, sparked outcry.

On Memorial Day, a plastic ichthus appeared on the monument over the plaque; in June, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit organization lending legal advice in religious freedom cases, offered to defend the county if any outside entity brought a lawsuit over the memorial.

Simon's legal opinion was presented to the commission on July 22.

Hugh Farnen said he has been to four public hearings about the memorial. Come election time, he said, he and the other hearing attendees will remember this process.

The new memorial will be put in place the same day the county moves the current one to Columbia Cemetery. That move will occur as soon as is mutually convenient, per the draft order.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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