The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit today against the Town of Whiteville, Tenn., and its mayor, James Bellar, to force him to remove crosses on the Whiteville water tower, in front of Whiteville City Hall and on the city-owned sidewalk.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, began complaining about a prominent lighted cross atop its water tower a year ago. After writing three unanswered letters of complaint, FFRF, with Tennessee attorney Alvin Harris, sent a letter of demand on Sept. 29 warning Bellar if he didn't move the cross, FFRF would sue by the end of the month.
Bellar initially announced on Oct. 3 that he would move the cross, although he referred to FFRF and its members as "terrorists" in local media reports.
But on Oct. 17, Bellar told reporter Daniel Wilkerson, WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tenn., that "Somebody has to stand up to these atheist sons of bitches, and you can quote me on that." In late October, Bellar used nearly $4,000 in taxpayer money to hire a crane service to inexplicably break one arm of the cross. Then Bellar began lighting what remained of the cross.
On or about Nov. 28, 2011, the town installed two large crosses in front of Whiteville City hall. On or around Nov. 30, defendants decorated the crosses with Christmas wreathes.
FFRF is suing on behalf of a member who regularly comes into unwelcome contact with the town displays of crosses.
"Mr. Doe's contact with the cross in front of the Whiteville City Hall is unwelcome and offensive to Mr. Doe, who believes the installation of religious symbols on Whiteville property is an illegal and unconstitutional exercise of Whiteville's authority and its defendants' endorsement of religion. The crosses on public property signify to Mr. Doe that Whiteville is only welcome to religious people (specifically Christians) and that as a non-religious person, he is unwelcome in Whiteville."
FFRF is seeking a declaratory judgment that the policy and practice of defendants' installation of religious symbols on Whiteville property is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and deprives FFRF and its members of their civil rights.
FFRF seeks preliminary and permanent mandatory injunctions requiring defendants to immediately and permanently remove the crosses on the Whiteville water tower, in front of city hall and on publicly owned sidewalks, and to enjoin them from installing crosses and other religious symbolism on Whiteville property in the future.