FFRF, AHA sue to remove giant cross from Florida park

PensacolaCrossThe Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association's (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed suit today against the City of Pensacola, Fla., to challenge a 25-foot tall Christian cross in public Bayview Park. A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed here

According to the lawsuit, the white Christian cross dominates the public park, where it is maintained by the city. The cross is also the site of numerous Easter Sunrise services, frequently co-hosted by Christian churches. A plaque specifically referencing Easter sits at the base of a platform near the cross.

"There are tax-free churches throughout Pensacola where this pinnacle symbol of Christianity may be appropriately displayed," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "But when a city park serving all citizens—nonreligious, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian—contains a towering Latin cross, this sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored citizens."

For at least the past 15 years, the city has received requests from citizens to remove the cross. In July 2015, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association sent warnings to the city that the public display and maintenance of the cross was a form of religious endorsement by the government. The city did not respond to these complaints. The local plaintiffs are non-Christians and feel marginalized and excluded by their government's display of a large Christian symbol.

"Federal courts have made abundantly clear that the government's display of a Christian cross on public land violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," said Monica Miller, senior counsel with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. "This cross sends a clear and exclusionary message of government preference for Christianity over all other religions."

"Pensacola's cross is a clear violation of the separation of state and church," said FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. "We're thankful to be working with courageous Pensacola residents to end the city's unconstitutional religious favoritism."

"A Christian cross on public land marginalizes the growing numbers of non-Christian Americans while wasting taxpayer dollars on maintaining a divisive display," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "The government should treat all theist and nontheist groups in the community equally. Favoring one over others is clear discrimination."

The federal lawsuit, filed in US District Court, Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, asks the court to declare that the Bayview cross is unconstitutional. It also asks the court to require the city to remove the Bayview Cross and to prohibit displaying Christian crosses on public land in the future.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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