FFRF questions Neosho transfer of park land with cross


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is greeting with guarded optimism an announcement by the city of Neosho, Mo., about how it is remedying a state/church violation.

FFRF had sent a complaint letter in May, informing the town that its display of a cross at Big Spring Park runs afoul of constitutional law, which bars displays of religious symbols on public property. 

The large cross, approximately 60 feet in length, lies on the side of a hill at the public park and has been illuminated every night by the city.

This week the city announced it has transferred the land containing the cross to the Save Our Heritage Foundation.

“We are pleased the city is moving in the right direction,” notes FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, “but there are serious issues with these type of land transfers.”

In a statement, City Attorney Steve Hays writes: “The city of Neosho, taking into account the concerns of one of our citizens, the current findings of law as it relates to stand alone religious symbols on public land and appreciating the costs which could be incurred due to lengthy court proceedings, has taken actions which it believes satisfactorily resolve the issue at hand.”

Markert sent a letter to the city today expressing concern that the transfer, if handled with intent to “save the cross,” rather than fairly and openly, may be “a legally problematic sham remedy.” 

Notably, FFRF is seeking assurances that the divested parcel be enclosed and contain disclaimer signage, in compliance with legal dictates. Without fences and disclaimers, the transfer does not relieve the continued perception of government endorsement.

It is not clear, FFRF notes, whether the city sold or gave away the land. “The city must ensure that is is getting a fair market price for this prime real estate.”

Markert sent an accompanying open records request seeking records on communications between the private foundation and the city, copies of city codes or policies governing the sale of city property, and other records related to the proposal to sell or transfer the land.

This spring, FFRF prevailed in litigation against the city of Santa Clara, Calif., which removed a 14-foot cross from a public park. This summer, FFRF and the American Humanist Association won a federal district ruling ordering removal of a 34-foot cross from a park in Pensacola, which the city is appealing. 

“Courts have uniformly held that governmental displays of Latin crosses — the principal symbol of Christianity around the world — are an unconstitutional endorsement of religion,” notes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “They have no secular purpose and when placed on public property they send an unambiguous message that Christians are insiders and non-Christians are unfavored outsiders. The United States is a secular republic, not a ‘Christian nation.’ “

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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