Two of the country’s leading secular groups have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand their victory declaring unconstitutional a massive cross in a Florida city park.
FFRF and the American Humanist Association filed a brief Nov. 19 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.
The filing argues that Supreme Court review is unwarranted because the law is clear and does not need to be disturbed. Numerous court decisions already make it clear that religious displays motivated by a religious purpose are unconstitutional, 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 entangles 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 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.”