FFRF and AHA challenge cross in Pensacola public park (2020)

A large white cross in Bayview Park in Pensacola, FL

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association filed suit over a government-owned cross in the city of Pensacola, Fla. on May 4, 2016. One version or another of the cross, which sits in Bayview Park, has stood for more than 50 years.

The city refused to comply with both groups' demands to remove the cross, leaving FFRF, AHA, and four Pensacola residents with no choice but to sue. 

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the cross violates the Establishment Clause, and issue an injunction ordering the cross to be removed.

FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler represent the plaintiffs, along with AHA Legal Director David Niose and Senior Counsel Monica Miller.

The case, no. 3:16-cv-00195, was filed in Florida federal court and sits before Judge Roger Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee.

On June 19, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that "the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.” Vinson ordered the cross removed within 30 days. The ruling came down speedily less than a week after oral arguments were heard on June 14, 2017.

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

In July 2017, the City of Pensacola filed an appeal with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  On September 26, 2017, the City filed its opening brief.  The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has been retained to assist in the city’s appeal.  

Amicus Briefs filed in the case

For Appellant:

For Appellees:

On September 7, 2018, a 3-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling from the district court, and found the cross unconstitutional.

The City of Pensacola filed a petition for en banc, which would be a review by the full panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on September 28, 2018. FFRF and AHA filed their response to that brief on October 22, 2018. On November 21, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent a notice to the parties in the case notifying them that the petition was being held over pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. That case will be heard by the high court in early 2019.

Supreme Court of the United States

In addition to requesting a rehearing by the full court of the Eleventh Circuit, the City of Pensacola also filed a petition for writ of certiorari on September 17, 2018. FFRF and AHA filed the brief in opposition on November 19, 2018, and the City filed a response on November 21, 2018. The Court set it for conference on December 7, 2018, but took no action on the petition. It will likely be re-listed for conference in 2019. 

Amicus Briefs filed at the petition for certiorari stage at the U.S. Supreme Court:

This case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals on June 28, 2019 in light of the American Legion v. American Humanist Association (Bladensburg) decision by the Supreme Court.

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Remanded)

On February 19, 2020 the Court of Appeals initial decision that this cross is unconstitutional was reversed. The case was reconsidered in light of Bladensburg. With this new precedent in mind, this court ruled in the same way as the Supreme Court, stating that, “the Cross does not offend the Constitution.”

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