Last week, a U.S. District Court judge said that a giant Christian cross on city property in Pensacola, Florida was unconstitutional and had to come down within 30 days.
You can read more about the background of this case here, but what’s relevant right now is that Judge Roger Vinson said in his ruling that there was an alternative solution if city officials didn’t want the cross to go away.
To be clear: None of this is to say that the cross would have to come down if the City sold or leased the area surrounding it to a private party or non governmental entity (so long as the transfer was bona fide and not a subterfuge). Nor would there be a constitutional problem with worshipers using a temporary cross for their services in the park (counsel for plaintiffs conceded that point during the hearing). However, after about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property. I am aware that there is a lot of support in Pensacola to keep the cross as is, and I understand and respect that point of view. But, the law is the law.
So if the city fairly sold or leased the land, it would turn at least a part of the public park into private property. That would make it legal for a group to swoop right in, claim the land for themselves, and carry on with whatever religious traditions they wanted.
That decision came down last Monday. By Friday, representatives of at least one group made it clear that they were interested in that option.
The Historic Preservation Society Inc. was formed Friday morning to preserve historic monuments that are threatened with destruction, according [to] the group’s chairman, former state Sen. Greg Evers.
Evers said a lease offer from the newly formed group was dropped off at Pensacola City Hall a few minutes before 5 p.m. Friday.
Vernon Stewart, public information officer for the city of Pensacola, confirmed the city had received the proposal but said no decision about the cross has been made as of Monday.
We don’t know how much land would be leased, what the cost would be, whether the city is seriously considering this, who makes up the “Historic Preservation Society Inc.,” or whether any atheists want to make an offer as well. (I’ve filed an open records request to get more information from the city.)
But we do know what Evers wants.
Evers said he hopes the mayor and City Council agree to the lease of $250 each year for 99 years. The lease would cover the cross, the small amphitheater behind it and 4 feet of land surrounding the cross and amphitheater.
That’s nearly $25,000 in total to create a spot to honor Jesus in a public park. I can think of better uses for that money, even in a religious context, but as long as it’s done within the parameters of the law, Christians are welcome to waste their money as they see fit.
They could always offer to take down the cross and move it to the lawn of a local church, then donate $25,000 to a good cause… but we all know how much Jesus loves getting attention. So I doubt that option ever crossed their minds.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)