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Original complaint filed last December

FFRF pressures Charleston, S.C., on fire station cross

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a demand letter, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, to the city of Charleston, S.C., in an effort to get the city to remove a Latin cross from the entrance to a fire station.

Last December, the Foundation complained on behalf of its South Carolina members about the cross and a Christian nativity scene at Charleston Fire Station No. 12.

Civil rights attorney George Daly, of Charlotte, N.C., is now representing the Foundation, which is ramping up its efforts to get the city to remove the cross. In an April 23 letter to Mayor Joseph Riley Jr., Daly noted that the cross "has been there for a long time, and we are ready to take action to get it removed." The Foundation asked for a reply from the city by May 14. Daly is also representing FFRF in its suit against a public school district in Spartanburg, S.C., for giving students academic credit for religious released-time classes.

After the original complaint, the city of Charleston ordered the nativity scene to be removed, which it was. But shortly thereafter it returned, surrounded by secular trimmings in an attempt to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permits manger scenes on public property if they're part of an overall "secular" Christmas display. The Foundation noted the "sham" quality of this too-little, too-late action, obviously taken to ensure a manger scene stayed at the fire station at Christmas time.

Then the city told FFRF it would "permanently" leave the lighted cross at the station entrance as a memorial to firefighters who died in a June 2007 fire.

The violation has been recurring since at least 2004 despite complaints over the years by the Foundation and other civil liberties groups.

"Another real sham is that the same cross, claimed now to be a memorial, has been used as a Christmas decoration since at least 2004," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

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