The cross on public land in Providence was erected “to show support for the Woonsocket war memorial recently challenged by a Wisconsin Atheist group for bearing a cross” according to Dee DeQuatro of 630WPRO, in an interview with Peter Montequila. Or, it was erected, according to Montequila, quoted in the same article, because “it would be a nice gesture because of Fourth of July coming up to put the monument up in respect to our fallen soldiers, our fallen military people.” Then again, Tatiana Pina of the Providence Journal reports that the cross was erected the week before Memorial Day, so perhaps it was erected to celebrate that holiday.
From what little I’ve read about Montequila he sounds like a pretty decent guy. He helps out at the VA Hospital, for instance, and the median he has adopted is quite well maintained. Reportedly he installed a sprinkler system on the median and bought a lawnmower to keep it trimmed. Keeping that span of road neat and beautiful is of a real benefit to the city. And Montequila is an opinionated man, embodying the true spirit of American individualism. On NBC10 Montequila said, “This is America last time I checked and everybody has a right to their own opinion. I have my right to an opinion and my opinion is God Bless America.” He claims that he wants his cross to be something to bring people together. “I think that cross out there brings people together, especially in the state that we are in, with the economy the way it is, we want to see the people rally around something that they can put their hearts into.”
Then again, Montequila, owner of Finest Car Wash on Pleasant Valley Parkway in Providence, isn’t very fond of atheists, so perhaps the cross is there as a message to those who don’t believe in his version of God to get out of Rhode Island. On ABC6 Montequila said about atheists,“If it really offends them, you know what? Don't drive down the street, or move someplace else or get out of the state, that's how I feel."
One can’t help but wonder if Montequila’s opinion is reserved only for atheists or if it applies to all non-Christians. He was quoted recently in the WPRO piece as saying, “we want customers that feel the way we do.”
Of course Montequila doesn’t say he wants to apply this idea to ALL non-Christians, so perhaps his bigotry is only reserved for those who don’t believe in God. But he does say, in a more complete version of the quote above, “an answer to atheist, and I’ll be quite honest with you I don’t really want them for my customers, let them go to an atheist carwash or an atheist gas station, we want customers that feel the way we do.” Let’s imagine Mr. Montequila saying the same thing about people with other beliefs, like Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics or Methodists. Sounds a bit different now, doesn’t it?
All the listed groups have, at one time or another, expressed beliefs that were unpopular at some time or in some place, and all the above have paid a heavy price in lives and opportunities lost in the face of bigotry. As Bob Plain asks over at RI Future, “Could we start seeing signs in business windows: ‘We don’t serve atheists’?” Again, switch out the word atheist with any other descriptor for a group of people and ask yourself if that’s the America you want to live in.
I don’t know Peter Montequila personally, but I’m willing to bet he’s not the kind of person who wants to be known as a bigot. But then again...