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Humanists Call For Removal Of Cross At Pensacola Park

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The giant cross on display at Pensacola’s Bayview Park is being targeted by a Washington-based group, which wants it taken down.

In a letter to Mayor Ashton Hayward and City Attorney Lysia Bowling, the American Humanist Association is demanding the cross’ removal from the city-owned park.

“Several local citizens contacted us to let us know about it,” said AHA Legal Director David Niose, who contends that by having the cross at the park, the city is placing one religion above all others.

“It’s a symbol that can only be interpreted as a symbol of Christianity,” Niose said. “It’s unambiguous, and it certainly sends a message to the public, Christian and non-Christian alike, that this community favors Christianity. And that is a violation of church-state separation.”

The 13-page letter cities numerous legal cases, both on the state and federal levels, in making what Niose calls a simple request to the city: remove the Bayview cross.

The cross, which has been there for roughly a half-century, is the site of the annual Easter sunrise worship services. McIlwain Presbyterian Church did the honors this year. Next to the cross is a plaque referencing Easter.

“Thirty or 45 days ago this was a discussion on our Facebook page about the cross, and a lot of our Facebook followers had different opinions about it,” said Mike Thomas, a member of the East Hill Neighborhood Association Board. He says one compromise could be to allow them to lease the land, on which the cross stands, with some possible additions. 

“I think the Board would be open to any religious organization that wanted to fund a symbol on that property, and make it open to any religious organization that wanted to hold a service there, as it should be,” Thomas said.

But, he adds that at this point, there doesn’t appear to have been any formal talks with the city about a lease for the site.

Many cities faced with similar situations have left up the Christian symbols and added those from other religions, such as Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. But David Niose with the American Humanist Association says in this case, that’s not an option.

“This is a very large cross, I find it hard to imagine they would put up a comparably-sized Menorah,” Niose said. “And then even if they did, you’d be looking at Muslims looking for their emblem, and lots of other religions out there. America is a very pluralistic country. There’s a broad tapestry of religious beliefs.”

The letter also says the courts have been virtually unanimous in determining that crosses on public land violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. So what if the city refuses to comply with the AHA demand?

“The next step would be to bring the issue to court,” said Niose.

Neither Mayor Hayward nor City Attorney Lysia Bowling were immediately available for comment. City spokesman Vernon Stewart had a brief statement from the Mayor.

“We want to respect all religions, without preference to any,” read Hayward’s statement. “Personally, I hope there’s always a place for religion in the public square. I surely don’t want to remove [the cross], however this is a question that we are going to refer to our attorneys.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.