The Freedom From Religion Foundation cautiously welcomes a Texas city's decision to deed a piece of public land with a cross to a church, but is skeptical about the terms of the sale.
The Port Neches City Council is selling a portion of Riverfront Park containing a 10-foot Latin cross to the First United Methodist Church for $100. FFRF had written letters to Mayor Glenn Johnson in November and January objecting to the cross on public property as an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
FFRF calls the City Council decision to divest itself of a religious symbol a victory for the separation of state and church, but it is concerned about details of the land sale. It says that the issue needs to be investigated and monitored further. The low sale price raises concerns that the church was given preferential treatment, and a close watch needs to be kept, it says, on how the church's plot will be differentiated from the adjacent taxpayer-funded park.
FFRF is skeptical that the city's motives are secular, given that the community outcry against FFRF's complaint was led by Mayor Johnson. He showed up at a rally held by supporters of the cross in November and spoke against FFRF's "attack" on "our cross," vowing, "We may lose ... but I'm just telling you this: When we come out of the fight, [FFRF] will have two black eyes, a broken leg, and a broken arm. ... And we may look worse, but they'll know they have been in a fight."
So, FFRF is not fully satisfied with the outcome.
"The City Council's move does show the local government fully well realizes that you can't have religious symbols on public land," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "However, the means by which the city divested itself of the cross raises concerns."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who wrote the letter to Johnson last year, has similar sentiments.
"The action to remove the Christian symbol from the public park is certainly a step in the right direction," she says. "FFRF will be looking into the details of the land sale to ensure the law was followed. If it is determined that the sale did not go through the proper process and the purpose was to save a religious symbol, then it's not a closed case."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,800 members nationwide, including almost 1,000 in Texas.