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Chippewa County panel keeps religious inscription on deputy's memorial

A committee in northwest Wisconsin has changed its mind about sandblasting a religious inscription from a courthouse memorial to a fallen sheriff's deputy.

The Chippewa County Buildings and Grounds panel did an about-face Thursday, after getting complaints from throughout the country that it was dishonoring the officer.

Jason Zunker, 31, was killed a year and a half ago while directing traffic near Bloomer.

And his memorial on the courthouse lawn included a message from Zunker that "You must ask Jesus into your heart - believe he died for you - and believe he rose again."

The committee voted last month to remove the inscription, fearing a lawsuit over church and state issues.

Zunker's family complained and committee chairman Mike Murphy said he's been called a God-hater and a socialist, both of which he denied.

In deciding to keep the religious message, the panel recommended that the county defend any lawsuit in circuit court.

But if the county loses there, the memorial's supporters would have to pay for any appeals.

Annie Laurie Gaylor of Madison's Freedom from Religion Foundation called the memorial inappropriate.

She said Zunker's religious message was aimed at his friends and relatives, and was not directed at the public.