Freethinkers ask U.S. Supreme Court to let Pensacola cross win stand


Two of the country’s leading secular groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to assent to their victory declaring unconstitutional a massive cross in a Florida city park.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Humanist Association (AHA) today filed a brief opposing the city of Pensacola’s efforts to overturn the recent 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring the city’s massive Christian cross towering over Bayview Park a violation of the First Amendment. 

Today’s filing argues that Supreme Court review is unwarranted because the law is clear and does not need to be disturbed. Numerous Supreme Court decisions already make it clear that religious displays motivated by a religious purpose cannot stand so there is no need for review.

“Of the 33 federal cross cases, not a single circuit has upheld a stand-alone Latin cross, let alone one motivated by a purely religious purpose,” the brief states. “That uniformity is proof that this court’s jurisprudence currently provides more than sufficient guidance to the lower courts to yield consistent results.”

The two groups filed their initial lawsuit on behalf of local residents in the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida in 2016. The case contended that the 34-foot-tall cross overwhelming Bayview Park and maintained by the city of Pensacola represents a clear preference for the Christian faith over other beliefs and nonbelief.

The district court sided with the national secular organizations in a June 2017 decision, ordering the removal of the city’s massive Christian cross. In early fall of 2018, the 11th Circuit upheld the decision, agreeing that the government-funded, freestanding cross unconstitutionally entangled the government with the Christian faith. On Sept. 17, the city petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari urging the high court to overturn the ruling. The brief today reflects the determination of the two organizations to protect their constitutional triumph.

“The city failed to present a question that demands Supreme Court review,” explains AHA Senior Counsel Monica Miller. “Federal courts have uniformly recognized that a government’s freestanding Christian cross display violates the Establishment Clause. This is especially true of crosses maintained for exclusively religious ends, such as Pensacola’s cross, which serves as the centerpiece for annual Christian worship services.”

“Courts have marched in virtual lockstep in striking down Christian cross displays on government property,” adds FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “There’s simply no reason the Court needs to review the sound decision by the 11th Circuit.”

FFRF contends that a city has the duty to equally serve all its residents.

“This huge city-sponsored cross impermissibly signals that Pensacola has a Christian government and that Christian citizens are favored,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are legally and morally in the right, and our victory should stand.”

The AHA concurs with this perspective.

“All residents of Pensacola have the right to enjoy the parks that their tax dollars maintain,” says Roy Speckhardt, AHA executive director. “We are looking forward to a city park that is welcoming to all.”

Further details about the case can be accessed here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate. With roughly 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including 1,600-plus and a chapter in Florida, the organization also educates the public about nontheism.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans, including over 2,800 members in Florida. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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