Last week, I posted about a cross that’s on the side of a road in Salem, Oregon. It was apparently put up 10 years ago in memory of a woman who died in a car crash, and that’s usually understandable and not the subject of any legal concerns.
Where this cross crossed the line was that city officials were not only leaving it up long after any reasonable amount of time, they were also maintaining the area around it, creating a perception that they were promoting Christianity.
There’s no hard and fast rule about what’s allowed here — and it’s obviously a sensitive subject matter — but the Freedom From Religion Foundation, acting on the request from a local citizen, sent a letter to city officials warning them about the constitutional concerns.
“The religious significance of the Latin cross is unambiguous and indisputable,” FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes to Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett. “A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.”
“The city shouldn’t be spending scarce public resources in the maintenance of a sectarian agenda,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Many taxpayers in Salem would object to their hard-earned money going toward sprucing up crosses.”
FFRF is asking the city to immediately move the cross from Kuebler Boulevard — and any other Latin cross display on Salem public property — to a more appropriate private location.
After that story made some headlines, the family that initially put the cross up voluntarily took it down. They never intended for this symbol to be a point of contention and weren’t thinking about any potential legal concerns.
“They didn’t want their mother’s memorial to become a point of contention in the community and thank everyone who supported them,” Kenny Larson, a spokesman for the city of Salem, told KATU on Tuesday. “They ask the media respect their privacy and have no further comment.”
Again, it’s not easy to talk about this because the family didn’t do any of this intentionally. But it’s the right move. I hope that cross is moved to the family’s home or even a local church. FFRF tried to do the same balancing act in their response to the family’s decision:
After being told that the cross was taken down, Markert said by email on Tuesday, “FFRF is pleased to hear that the cross has been removed. While our hearts go out to the grieving family, we thank them for understanding the problem religious imagery creates on public property.“
To those who think this is too petty of an issue to worry about, I just have a question: When should church/state separation violations be taken seriously?
If you let something like this slide, then what else should Christians be allowed to get away with? It makes much more sense to me to pursue any and all violations of the law, even if it may seem insensitive to some, because the principle doesn’t change. You can’t say a religious memorial on government property can stay up and then make the case that a giant Christian cross in a public park needs to come down. That would be hypocritical.
An issue like this may lead to some bad publicity, but it’s better in the long run.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)