The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sticking to its guns that an unconstitutional Latin cross must be removed from the lawn at the Police Department, in Searcy, Ark.
FFRF first notified then-Police Chief Kyle Osborne about the violation in March 2013 after a citizen complained to FFRF. Since then, city officials have stonewalled the Madison, Wis-based nationwide group that advocates for state-church separation.
Another complaint letter went out Jan. 16 to City Attorney Buck Gibson to update him on the situation. The department failed to respond to the March letter, so a follow-up was sent. Current Police Chief Jeremy Clark claimed in a May 7 letter that "I have found no such display."
FFRF’s local complainant confirmed the cross was indeed still on display, and on Nov. 20, sent Clark another letter. He replied Dec. 2 that it was a moot issue because the cross was near his “private entrance.”
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, in her letter to Gibson, cited multiple court cases relevant to the issue. She noted that Clark's contention that he has a private entrance somehow immune from constitutional scrutiny "is absurd and has no basis in fact or in law. The Searcy Police Department cross is not on Chief Clark’s private lawn," and is readily visible from the street.
Markert added, "FFRF renews its request that Police Chief Clark immediately remove the Latin cross from the lawn of the Searcy Police Department and/or direct the display be moved to a private location. If the chief is partial to the cross, he can certainly move it to his lawn at his own home. Once again, we ask for a response in writing so that we may inform our Searcy complainant of the action being taken by the city in this matter."
FFRF also sent letters Jan. 16 to Clark and Mayor David Morris about public comments attributed to them that were reported in the Daily Citizen newspaper.
Morris called Searcy (a city of about 23,000) a “Christian community,” and Clark reportedly said, “Christianity is part of our police department.”
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor took issue with both of those statements. "As mayor, you represent all Searcy residents, including atheists, Jews, and other non-Christians. In other words, you were elected to represent the entire city, not just Christians."
To the police chief, they wrote, "Your department strives to 'perform our duties and responsibilities with pride, faith, hope, and dedication to our core principles and values as expressed in the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Arkansas.' . . . Making public statements that stress the Christian atmosphere in the department is insensitive, and alienates citizens who adhere to minority religions or who do not believe in any faith."
According to Clark's predecessor, St. Paul United Methodist Church placed the cross on city property in 2011.