Oklahoma City Removes 30-foot Cross (April 2003)

Officials in Oklahoma City removed a 30-foot-high concrete cross from public property on Feb. 26 after an inquiry about its constitutionality, lodged by Foundation Life Member Jim Worrell, followed by a letter of complaint from the national Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madsion, Wis., asking for its removal.

The cross had been displayed for nearly four decades at the city-owned State Fair Grounds, maintained by the Oklahoma State Fair.

Mr. Worrell reminded officials that the city of Edmond lost a costly lawsuit challenging use of a cross on its city seal. Foundation president Anne Gaylor noted in her follow-up complaint that no court has ever ruled in favor of a cross erected permanently on public property.

The Daily Oklahoman reported that no one knows who originally provided the cross or when precisely it was erected.

Following removal of the cross, all but one Oklahoma City Council member, voting in early March, backed City Manager Jim Couch’s decision to remove the cross to avoid a lawsuit. That representative, Brent Rinehart, insisted “the cross, Christianity, religion, it’s what American stands for, it’s what this country was founded on.” A state legislator also publicly condemned Couch.

Other council members praised the city manager for avoiding a costly and losing legal battle. Mayor Kirk Humphrey was quoted saying he was “disappointed,” but that a lawsuit might be “an exercise in futility.”

Mr. Worrell has received several threats since the removal of the cross. “Some are calling me unAmerican, some are saying I’ll burn in hell. One guy said he was going to come over to my house and we’d meet face to face.” But he told Freethought Today: “I can tell you that this experience made me stronger and more resolute.”

He told the Daily Oklahoman: “Let’s say somebody else wanted to put a statue of Joseph Smith for the Mormons or a statue of Mohammed for the Muslims at the park. That’s another reason the state needs to stay out of religion.”

Gaylor, who received some nasty phone calls and emails too (see p. 11), praised city manager James Couch for his timely and responsive action to honor the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. She also thanked member Jim Worrell for taking action, and for alerting the Foundation about the violation as well.

“It’s a pleasure to witness a public body taking responsive steps to uphold the separation of church and state, without having to be sued,” she added.

The city planned to put the cross up for bids.

Freedom From Religion Foundation