Officials in Pensacola, Florida are taking a strange approach in defending a giant Christian cross on city property: They’re saying it’s not religious at all. Which is very odd for a cross that has been around for at least 50 years and stands next to a plaque referencing Easter.
Just to give more background on this case: Last June, a local 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 about 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.”
This case has been working through the court system, and attorneys for the city just responded to the initial complaint. But their rebuttals should raise a lot of eyebrows.
Just look at how the original lawsuit made clear what the problem was with the monument:
50. The predominant and nearly exclusive use of the Bayview Cross has been for religious activity.
City officials responded by saying they don’t see it that way:
50. Denied. “Religious activity” is not the exclusive use of the cross. The cross has a secular purpose — i.e. to mark an annual community service attended by thousands of people and participated in by civic, government, and military leaders, local schools, law enforcement, and the Boy Scouts, at which the Easter holiday was observed and flowers were laid at a cross (often in times of war) in memory of those who had suffered and died defending this country.
Riiiiight. Somehow, a memorial to our veterans just happened to be built in the shape of a Christian cross. Don’t connect the dots because this is totally not about Jesus. Even though everyone celebrates Easter there.
The original lawsuit also said:
70. The City has been put on notice, repeatedly, that the Bayview Cross amounts to unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion and that it makes non-Christian residents feel excluded from the community.
The city’s response?
70. Admitted the City has received complaints about the cross. Denied that the cross is a government endorsement of religion. Denied that a reasonable observer aware of the history and all other pertinent facts relating to the display would view the cross as a government endorsement of religion.
That’s unbelievable… The attorneys claim that a reasonable person seeing the giant cross and knowing its history — the same history they refused to tell to Suhor — would never think it’s associated with Christianity.
Keep in mind the only plaque by the monument has everything to do with Easter and nothing to do with fallen soldiers.
The city should just admit the obvious: This is a Christian monument and it belongs on private property. Instead, they’re fighting this lawsuit by suggesting the cross is purely secular, a laughable claim that no reasonable person would ever take seriously.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)