FFRF files appeals brief in Pensacola cross case


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging an appeals court to sustain a judge’s order to remove an unconstitutional and massive Christian cross from a Florida city park.

Two of the country’s leading secular organizations, FFRF and the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Legal Center, achieved a major legal victory this summer when Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that “the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.” The 34-foot white Latin cross owned, displayed and funded by the city of Pensacola towers over Bayview Park. The cross is also the site of numerous Easter Sunrise services, frequently co-hosted by Christian churches. 

Vinson ordered the cross removed within a month. Lamentably, the city appealed the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF and AHA and their co-plaintiffs are now asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court’s decision.

“This appeal involves the straightforward issue of whether a city’s massive, freestanding Christian cross — prominently displayed on city property — violates
the Establishment Clause,” the two organizations write in their appellate brief. “Even the district court judge, who was the president of the organization that installed the cross, agreed this case does not present a ‘difficult question[] — legally speaking — because there is controlling precedent directly on point.’ Thus, oral argument is unwarranted.” 

The case was decided on clear, settled legal grounds. The ruling by Vinson, a senior federal judge for the Northern District of Florida – Pensacola Division appointed by President Reagan, could best be characterized as begrudging. And yet he still comprehended the illegality of the Bayview Cross.

“This is not a ‘borderline case,'” the judge stated. “The Bayview Cross clearly has a primarily — if not exclusively — religious purpose.”

That’s why it is baffling that the city of Pensacola is persisting on the legal route.

“It’s disturbing that Pensacola city officials are determined to be in the wrong,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Their flagrant breach of the constitutional wall of separation sends an unconscionable message that non-Christian citizens are second class.”

The American Humanist Association concurs.

“Most government representatives do the right thing and correct their mistakes when we point out violations of the law,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA. “But the city of Pensacola continues to act irresponsibly by appealing an unsound case and racking up fees that will very likely be paid by the taxpayers of Pensacola.”

FFRF and the American Humanist Association are more than willing to match Pensacola’s stubbornness with their determination.

The plaintiffs in the case are Amanda Kondrat’yev; Andreiy Kondrat’yev; David Suhor and Andre Ryland. The case was brought by both FFRF and AHA, and handled by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler and AHA’s senior counsel Monica Miller and legal director David Niose. Case 3:16-cv-00195-RV-CJK

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. With roughly 30,000 members and chapters all over the country, including 1,500-plus and a chapter in Florida, the organization also educates the public about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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