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Atheists ask appeals court to banish Pensacola cross

The American Humanist Association Wednesday asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to banish a Christian cross that has been standing in a park in Pensacola, Florida, for nearly 80 years, because it represents “a troubling elevation of the Christian faith above other beliefs and non-belief.”

The city, however, argues the Constitution permits government to recognize the significant role of religion in the nation’s history and culture.

In fact, according to Becket, a non-profit religious liberty law firm representing the city, of the four “Pensacola residents” on whose behalf the complaint was filed, two live in Canada and another lives outside the city.

The fourth, Becket said, has used the cross for his own “satanic purposes.”


“Religious symbols aren’t like graffiti that the government should erase as soon as someone complains,” said Luke Goodrich, senior counsel for Becket.

The American Humanist Association sued the city in 2016, and the following year, a district court judge ruled the structure violated the Constitution.

“However, the ruling relied on the notorious Lemon test, which the Supreme Court has rejected as inconsistent with the historical meaning of the Constitution,” Becket said.

American Humanists’ lawyer Monica Miller said she argued to the appeals court that when “the government emplaces a massive, freestanding Christian cross on its property to serve as a holy object for annual Christian worship services, it sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion.”

But Becket explains the cross was placed in Pensacola’s 28-acre Bayview Park in 1941 by a local community service group as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II.

“For decades, the cross has been the site of numerous community events, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day services, and is one of over 170 other displays in Pensacola’s parks. Together, these displays tell the story of the city’s rich history and culture,” the legal team explained.

Five major Jewish organizations, an association of lawyers representing cities across the nation, and 14 other states have endorsed the city’s position.

“Pensacola is proud of the pivotal role it has played in American history – and we should be free to celebrate that history,” said Ashton Hayward, mayor of Pensacola, in a statement released by the legal team.

“The cross was erected by local Pensacolans who wanted to come together on the eve of World War II, and it continues to serve as a reminder of our city’s rich history and culture.”

See an explanation of the issue:

In a brief filed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, the state’s lawyers explained, “In resolving this case, the court should harmonize this circuit’s caselaw with intervening decisions of the United States Supreme Court and clarify that the mere presence of a Latin cross on public property does not violate the Establishment Clause, especially when the cross has stood for decades without any legal challenge or complaint.”

It contends the district judge made a simple and erroneous assumption, that “because a Latin cross is an inherently religious symbol, it serves no secular purpose.”

The high court has said the Establishment Clause “does not compel the government to purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious,” and also a cross is “often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this nation.”

The brief argued: “If it were accepted by this court, the district court’s reasoning would threaten countless monuments across the circuit. As detailed in the city’s appendix, state and local parks, squares, and government buildings boast veterans’ memorials that contain religious imagery, including crosses, citations to scripture, and the like. … The mere fact that these monuments consist of crosses and other religious symbols does not negate their secular purpose or their historical and cultural significance.”

And it noted there is no coercion. No one is forcing someone to go to the cross’s “out-of-the-way corner” to observe it.

“There is no real potential for indirect coercion here,” either, the brief said.

WND reported when Becket argued the suit shouldn’t even have been filed.

“Ultimately, the court need not reach any of these issues, because plaintiffs lack standing to sue. Two plaintiffs submitted no evidence of standing and have since left the country. The third plaintiff does not live in Pensacola and has suffered no cognizable injury. The last plaintiff not only lacks any injury, but negated any claim of injury by reserving the cross and using it for his own ‘satanic purposes,'” the filing explains.

Becket explained three of the plaintiffs have virtually no exposure to the cross, and the fourth “contacted the city and ‘tried to reserve the site of the cross for Easter Sunday.’ A church had already reserved the site for that day, but when [the plaintiff] ‘complained,’ ‘the church graciously agreed to move to another area in the park’ to permit [him] to use the cross. [The plaintiff] then proceeded to use the cross for his ‘satanic purposes.'”