The Freedom From Religion Foundation has at last convinced a Missouri town to transfer a cross from public land.
“Ozark officials said Friday they will move a cross that is part of a holiday display in a city park,” the Springfield News-Leader reports. “The issue was raised when the city received a letter in late November from a separation-of-church-and-state group demanding the cross be removed.”
That “separation-of-church-and-state group” is FFRF, and it has been asking the city for months to do the constitutionally right thing.
As FFRF mentioned in its initial letter on Nov. 30, an illuminated cross is not a permissible city holiday decoration.
Soon after, it seemed that Ozark had listened to FFRF’s advice. Early on Dec. 11, the city issued a remarkable statement indicating that a cross displayed in its Finley River Park indeed violated the Constitution. But later the very same day, much to FFRF’s dismay, the city reversed course under immense pressure from the community, stating that “the cross in the Finley River Park will remain in place until a further due diligence can be completed regarding this matter.”
In its subsequent letter taking city officials to task for their reversal, the state/church watchdog emphasized its original legal point.
“In ACLU v. St. Charles (1986), the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibited the city of St. Charles from displaying an illuminated Latin cross on the top of the city’s fire department as a part of its annual Christmas display,” FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert reminded City Administrator Stephen Childers. “The court stated matter of factly that ‘the cross is not in fact a common Christmas symbol.’”
Finally, Ozark has heeded FFRF’s counsel — this time, hopefully, for good.
“The city said it will move the cross to a private piece of land at the south end of the park,” the Springfield paper adds. “That land is owned by the Christian County A&M Society and is used by the Finley River Saddle Club, according to the city.”
FFRF is delighted at this change of heart.
“From the beginning, we’ve asked the city of Ozark to remove this cross or direct that it be moved to private property where it would be more appropriately displayed,” says Markert. “FFRF is pleased to learn that the city finally agreed to relocate the cross to private property. This is a good step in honoring the separation between state and church and a victory for the Constitution.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 31,000 members across the country, including hundreds in Missouri. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.