Whiteville, Tenn., certainly isn’t “Pleasantville” for non-Christians with James Bellar behind the civic wheel, but the mayor of that Tennessee town finally and very grudgingly agreed that a water tower cross had to go.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called off plans to sue the town over the First Amendment violation. But the national state/church watchdog with 17,000 members, including over 200 in Tennessee, called Bellar’s remedy “bizarre” and is closely monitoring the situation.
Mayor James Bellar sent a letter in late October to FFRF’s attorney, advising him that “There is no longer a Latin cross atop the Whiteville water tower.” Bellar attached an invoice for nearly $4,000 from a crane service. He inexplicably paid the firm to lop off one arm of the Latin cross, leaving what looks a bit like a gallows (or a broken cross!).
The mayor has called FFRF and its potential plaintiff “terrorists.”
After receiving a demand letter on behalf of FFRF by Nashville attorney Alvin Harris, Bellar initially announced on Oct. 3 that he would move the cross. Then he changed his mind. 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.”
FFRF, on behalf of a local complainant, had written four unanswered letters of complaint since last December to the town of Whiteville protesting the illegal lighted display.
“We’re looking a little cross-eyed at the mayor’s strange action and, his vindictive and unprofessional statements, but we are satisfied, for now, that there is no longer a Latin cross on governmental property,” noted Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. He warned that if the town restores the Latin cross (an action hinted at in the mayor’s letter), it will sue.
“This intemperate mayor has wasted nearly $4,000 in tax dollars to essentially mutilate a religious symbol, rather than remove it. A careful administrator would not have indulged in such folly. The town could even have made some money had it auctioned the cross to bidders. We would encourage the town council to investigate the mayor’s action,” added Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president