For Immediate Release
American Humanist Association Contacts:
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, email@example.com
Freedom From Religion Foundation Contacts:
Annie Laurie Gaylor, 608-256-8900, algaylor@FFRF.org
Rebecca Markert, 608-256-8900, firstname.lastname@example.org
Madeline Ziegler, 608-256-8900, email@example.com
(Pensacola, FL, May 4, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) are suing the City of Pensacola, Fla., to challenge a 25-foot tall Christian cross in public Bayview Park.
“Federal courts have made abundantly clear that the government’s display of a Christian cross on public land violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This cross sends a clear and exclusionary message of government preference for Christianity over all other religions.”
“Pensacola’s cross is a clear violation of the separation of state and church,” said FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. “We’re thankful to be working with courageous Pensacola residents to end the city’s unconstitutional religious favoritism.”
According to the lawsuit, the white Christian cross dominates the public park, where it is maintained by the city. The cross is also the site of numerous Easter Sunrise services, frequently co-hosted by Christian churches. A plaque specifically referencing Easter sits at the base of a platform near the cross.
“A Christian cross on public land marginalizes the growing numbers of non-Christian Americans while wasting taxpayer dollars on maintaining a divisive display,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The government should treat all theist and nontheist groups in the community equally. Favoring one over others is clear discrimination.”
“There are tax-free churches throughout Pensacola where this pinnacle symbol of Christianity may be appropriately displayed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “But when a city park serving all citizens—nonreligious, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian—contains a towering Latin cross, this sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored citizens.”
For at least the past 15 years, the city has received requests to remove the cross from citizens. In July 2015, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association sent warnings to the city that the public display and maintenance of the cross was a form of religious endorsement by the government. The city did not respond to these complaints. The local plaintiffs are non-Christians and feel marginalized and excluded by their government’s display of this large Christian symbol.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Bayview Cross is unconstitutional. It also asks the court to require the city to remove the Bayview Cross and to prohibit displaying Christian crosses on public land in the future.
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any 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.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate. The organization has 23,700 nonreligious members, including more than 1,200 in Florida.