U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Breen approved a settlement yesterday between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Town of Whiteville, Tenn. The Agreed Judgment ends a lawsuit brought by FFRF against the town and its mayor, James Bellar, over several crosses on town property.
The judgment enjoins Whiteville from installing crosses on city hall property in the future. It further provides that the mayor and town agree not to replace an arm on the remaining structure atop the town’s water tower. After FFRF threatened a lawsuit last fall over the cross on Whiteville's water tower, the town paid over $4,000 to remove an arm of the cross.
FFRF did not file suit until Bellar inflamed the situation by placing crosses on city property in front of city hall in December, which he later adorned with wreaths. Bellar had told WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tenn., "somebody has to stand up to these atheist sons of bitches."
In the settlement, the mayor also agreed not to place crosses on the public portion of the sidewalk in front of his insurance business. The town will pay $20,000 toward FFRF’s attorney’s fees. FFRF had about $10,000 in additional expenses.
“The result underlines the clear and solid law that government bodies may not place Latin crosses on public property. We are not a Christian theocracy, but a secular republic,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.
Bellar and the Whiteville Board of Alderpersons approved the terms of the settlement on August 6. Judge Breen’s issuance of an agreed judgment concludes the case.
The case was handled by Alvin Harris, a Nashville attorney.
"We thank our local complainant who has remained steadfast in the face of local hostility," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF had not revealed the complainant's name.