Freethought Today · March 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Cross taken down at park - Santa Clara finally settles with FFRF over lawsuit

A 14-foot granite cross in a public park in Santa Clara, Calif., was removed following a federal court challenge by FFRF.

FFRF and a local member sued the city in April 2016, after FFRF had attempted for four years to persuade the city to remove the cross without litigation.

The cross was donated by the Santa Clara Lion's Club in 1953 for the decidedly nonsecular purpose of marking the site of the second Spanish Catholic mission, which had been established in 1777.

As part of the ongoing settlement, the city has donated the cross to the Catholic Santa Clara University. FFRF did not receive prior notification about the removal, learning via South Bay NBC that it was no longer in the park as of Jan. 13.

"We're happy that the city divested itself of this religious symbol, and that the Constitution is now being complied with," says FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.

"Some people feel like we've caved in or succumbed to the arguments of a relatively small number of people, but as I said, they [FFRF side," councilmember Teresa O'Neill told Ian Cull of NBC Bay Area.

Markert and other FFRF staff had written or phoned the city on more than a dozen occasions since first contacting the city over the Establishment Clause violation in April 2012. The city had indicated in 2012 that it looked forward "to resolving this matter in an expeditious and responsible manner."

"It's a very rational way to begin the New Year — sending a strong message of support for the wall of separation between religion and government," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Reason and the Constitution have prevailed."

As usual, not everyone was pleased with the cross coming down.
"I find it offensive that the city leaders don't have the will to maintain a rich symbol of their city's history, but take path of least resistance — and less legal expense — of caving to this lawsuit," one commenter on the NBC website wrote. "The city should have settled by offering counseling to the individual who allegedly found the cross so offensive."

FFRF v. City of Santa Clara was litigated on behalf of FFRF by David J.P. Kaloyanides, with FFRF attorneys Markert and Madeline Ziegler serving as co-counsel. The case, No. 5:16-cv-02072, remains before Judge Lucy H. Koh until the final settlement papers are signed.

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