The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with local member Andrew DeFaria, is suing the city of Santa Clara, Calif., to remove a gigantic cross from a local public park.
The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.
FFRF, the plaintiff organization, is a national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) that works to keep religion out of government. It has 23,700 members, including more than 3,100 in California.
The defendants are the city of Santa Clara, Santa Clara City Council, Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Vice Mayor Teresa O'Neill and other members of the city council. Santa Clara, which bills itself as "The Mission City," is about 45 miles southeast of San Francisco.
The 14-foot granite Latin cross at Memorial Cross Park that FFRF and DeFaria are suing about officially commemorates a 1777 Spanish Catholic mission. The prominent Christian edifice was donated by the Santa Clara Lions Club in 1953, with the city maintaining the cross and the park ever since. FFRF contends that the city's decision to accept the cross and its subsequent display and maintenance "amounts to the advancement of religion," specifically Christianity.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert first complained in April 2012 to the city's then-mayor, Jamie L. Matthews. The city indicated two months later that it looked forward "to resolving this matter in an expeditious and responsible manner."
In the past three years, on at least 12 occasions, Markert and other FFRF employees have followed up on the status of the cross's removal. But the city's only action to date has been to remove a sign reading "Memorial Cross Park."
DeFaria, who lives in Santa Clara, has encountered the cross at the park. "As a nonbeliever in any religion, he finds the cross on public land objectionable," the lawsuit says. DeFaria now avoids the park, and even the street on which the park is located, so he won't have to encounter his city's endorsement of the Christian religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and DeFaria are asking the court to declare the city cross in violation of Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the No Preference Clause of Article I, § 4 of the California Constitution.
"It should not be necessary to sue over such an obvious and blatant establishment of religion," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We waited four years for the city to act in good faith and divest itself of this unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and were left with no recourse but to go to court."
FFRF v. City of Santa Clara is being litigated on behalf of FFRF by David J.P. Kaloyanides, with FFRF attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler serving as co-counsel.