If you visit Bayview Park in Pensacola, Florida, it’s hard to miss this government-sanctioned Christian cross that’s been around for at least 50 years:
In case the shape still has you doubting the Christian connection, the monument stands next to a plaque referencing Easter.
Last June, a local atheist activist, David Suhor, contacted the city to get more information about the cross, giving officials a chance to take care of this problem on their own. But they didn’t want to meet with him and they couldn’t tell him what group was responsible for putting up the cross in the first place. (You can read that exchange on Suhor’s website.)
When that didn’t work, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation separately sent letters to city officials saying the Cross had to go:
“By prominently displaying a Christian cross at Bayview, a public park, the city is promoting Christianity over all other religions and religion over non-religion,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The courts have been virtually unanimous in determining that crosses on public land violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Pensacola officials never responded to them, either.
“Federal courts have made abundantly clear that the government’s display of a Christian cross on public land violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This cross sends a clear and exclusionary message of government preference for Christianity over all other religions.”
“Pensacola’s cross is a clear violation of the separation of state and church,” said FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. “We’re thankful to be working with courageous Pensacola residents to end the city’s unconstitutional religious favoritism.”
“A Christian cross on public land marginalizes the growing numbers of non-Christian Americans while wasting taxpayer dollars on maintaining a divisive display,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The government should treat all theist and nontheist groups in the community equally. Favoring one over others is clear discrimination.”
“There are tax-free churches throughout Pensacola where this pinnacle symbol of Christianity may be appropriately displayed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “But when a city park serving all citizens — nonreligious, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian — contains a towering Latin cross, this sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored citizens.”
You’re bound to hear Christian Right groups calling this another example of atheist groups being litigious, but there were three separate warnings before the lawsuit was filed and officials did absolutely nothing. That’s how irresponsible Mayor Ashton Hayward and Pensacola official Brian Cooper are.
They won’t be able to hide anymore.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)