Leading Freethought Organizations Defend Pensacola Cross Victory in Appeals Court

Today, attorneys at the American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), led by AHA Senior Counsel Monica Miller, filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Today’s filing opposes the City of Pensacola’s request that the full Eleventh Circuit rehear the case and overturn an earlier three-judge panel’s ruling that the massive Christian cross in Bayview Park is unconstitutional.

“The City failed to meet the stringent requirements warranting a full court review, as the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in our favor comports with Supreme Court precedent and every federal case involving a government’s freestanding Christian cross display,” explained Miller. “In fact, as I demonstrated in our brief, reversal would only create deep tensions with binding Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit precedent, and create a split amongst the federal circuits, which have uniformly recognized that a government’s standalone Christian cross display violates the Establishment Clause.”

The American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, leading organizations working to keep church and state separate, filed suit in 2016 on behalf of local residents challenging the City of Pensacola’s 34-foot-tall, freestanding Christian cross dominating the popular city park. The exclusively Christian monolith has consistently been used as a holy object for Easter Sunrise Services since its 1969 installation. In June 2017, the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida sided with the AHA and FFRF and declared the cross a violation of the Establishment Clause.

After the city appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, Miller presented oral arguments to a three-judge panel, including one recent Trump appointee. In September 2018, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling in the AHA and FFRF’s favor. The city took the unusual step of filing both a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court and a petition for rehearing en banc in the Eleventh Circuit simultaneously, both seeking to overturn the three-panel ruling.'

“The city’s stance is extremely frustrating,” says Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is shooting itself in the foot by refusing to adhere to a constitutionally sound judgement.”

“It’s disappointing to see the City of Pensacola continue to waste taxpayer funds by appealing a sound ruling,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director at the American Humanist Association. “We will continue to advocate for a city park that is welcoming and inclusive to all.”

Read today’s Brief in Opposition to the City’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc here.

Read the September 2018 decision here.

Read the AHA and FFRF’s September 2017 Appellate Brief here.

Read the May 2016 complaint here.

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.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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