04/26/2012 02:33 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2012

Rhode Island Cross Controversy: Atheist Group Demands Fire Department Remove 91-Year-Old Monument

A cross is at the center of another church and state controversy in Rhode Island.

Earlier this year, Jessica Ahlquist, 16, successfully sued to remove a school prayer banner from her high school in Cranston, R.I.

Now, an atheist group called Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has written a letter to Leo Fontaine, mayor of Woonsocket, R.I., stating that a cross in the parking lot of the town's fire department is "unlawful" and requesting that the town remove it.

According to the Daily Caller, the letter also asked that a memorial angel and firefighter's prayer be removed from the department's website.

(Click here to read the letter from FFRF )

The offending monument was unveiled in 1921 in memory of William Jolicoeur, a member of the American Expeditionary Forces who was killed in France during World War I, the Woonsocket Call explains. The monument was later rededicated in May 1952 to honor three brothers killed in World War II. The original monument was dedicated by French Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, who came to Woonsocket at the end of World War 1.

The mayor is exploring the city's options, but says he has no intention of removing the cross.

However, the cross could be relocated to private property if a lawsuit is mounted. City Council President John Ward informed the Woonsocket Call that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy and cannot afford to get dragged into a costly legal battle over a principle.

The controversy has prompted Tom Poole, a disabled veteran, and Barbara Dardeen of Warwick to start a vigil at the monument. As WoonsocketPatch reports, the couple is hoping to stop any removal of the cross: "We'll both spend as much time out here as we need to, to make sure that the monument stays put," Dardeen said.

For more on this story, watch WPRI's video report below.