The mayor of Pensacola, Florida has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to a giant, illegal Christian cross monument in Bayview Park. And because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s pursuing a plan of action that’s costly, ignorant, and disrespectful.
The cross is question was deemed unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge last year. But the city, in all its wisdom, appealed that decision with the support of 14 conservative attorneys general from across the country, all of whom said the Giant Christian Cross was a totally secular monument. Last month, however, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the earlier decision was correct. The cross was an establishment of Christianity and it had to come down.
But then the city decided it would appeal once again, this time to the Supreme Court.
Yesterday, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said in an op-ed for the News Journal that this was the right decision for three specific reasons. So let’s go through them.
The first is financial. If the city gives up its appeal now, on the doorstep of the Supreme Court, Pensacola taxpayers will have to pay the full amount of the atheist group’s attorneys’ fees — which they say are over $100,000. But if the city wins its appeal — with expert attorneys at Becket who are representing us free of charge — all of those fees are wiped away. The city pays nothing. So an appeal makes good financial sense.
He’s right that the Supreme Court overturning the rulings would wipe away the current fees. He’s wrong about everything else.
The $130,000 (to be exact) was for the case in the U.S. District Court. We still don’t know what the attorney’s fees will be at the appellate level, but obviously, it’ll be a lot more. And the appeal to the Supreme Court, which requires time and energy from the lawyers for the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, will cost even more.
All of this is billable to Pensacola taxpayers. They should consider it a surcharge for electing idiots. It’s a tax on people who don’t understand the sunk cost fallacy.
It absolutely does not make good financial sense to pursue the case, though. Hayward is making a huge assumption that the Court will take up this case — which is always a long shot — and that Brett Kavanaugh (or someone with his conservative views) will be seated by the time the case is heard so that they will win. Asking the Supreme Court to take up your case in the hopes that you won’t have to pay a fine is like throwing money at scratch-off lottery tickets in the hopes you’ll win the grand prize.
Hayward would have been much better off cutting his losses after the first decision. Instead, his city has continued pursuing this wild and expensive goose chase.
The second reason to appeal is practical. If the city tries to sell the land under the cross, that won’t end the controversy. The atheist group has already threatened to sue the city over the terms of the sale. And that’s not a hollow threat. In other cases, like the Mt. Soledad cross case in San Diego, attempts to sell the land under a cross have led to years of expensive and protracted litigation. So the “quick fix” of selling the land is neither “quick” nor a “fix.” The quickest and best way to end this controversy is for the city to win in court.
“I think this now resolves the case,” said David Loy, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, which has long fought alongside other plaintiffs opposed to the presence of the cross.
“The government doesn’t own the cross or the land underneath it any more,” Loy said. “The government is no longer in the business of endorsing religion.”
So what the hell is Hayward talking about?! He could sell the land and end this. Instead, he wants to gamble with taxpayers’ money.
By the way, both candidates vying to become Pensacola’s next mayor said this week that they would be fine selling the land with the cross to a private group. Those guys are smart. Those guys get it. Hayward doesn’t give a damn about the people who elected him.
The final and most important reason to appeal is a matter of principle. Pensacola is a diverse city that welcomes people of all faith and no faith at all. We also have a rich history. And that history includes religion. The Constitution doesn’t require the government to quarantine religious symbols on private property, as if they’re a disease that will contaminate the state. Rather, the government can recognize that religion is a fundamental part of human culture, just like it recognizes other aspects of culture.
No one is saying religion isn’t an important part of any city’s culture. But the issue at hand isn’t that the government is recognizing Christianity. It’s that it’s promoting Christianity.
You have to be willfully ignorant not to understand this.
Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA, told me last night that her organization and FFRF oppose efforts by the city to continue fighting this case in part because this is already settled law, and also because it’s bad for religion:
… Not only does a government’s Christian cross send a strong message of exclusion to atheists and other non-Christians, but, as demonstrated by this mayoral race, it also co-opts a sacred symbol for government purposes, which is offensive to many Christians.
Hayward doesn’t care. And the attorneys at Becket, defending the city for “free,” don’t care since they’ll inevitably fundraise off of this case even if they lose. The people who stand to suffer the most are the citizens whose taxes are funding this charade instead of going toward services that would help the community.
It’s too bad their elected officials aren’t working in their best interests.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)