Friday, April 03, 2009

Lighted Cross On City Fire Tower Is Center of Dispute

In Reading, Pennsylvania, for at least 50 years the city has displayed a large lighted cross on the city-owned Fire Tower during the Easter season, and a lighted star at Christmas. Now, according to reports in the Reading Eagle and WPVI News, the ACLU and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center wrote the city's mayor threatening to sue if the light grid was turned on this year. (WMVZ has links to the full text of 2 letters sent by AHLC.) Mayor Tom McMahon, nevertheless, continued the decades-old tradition this year, lighting up the cross Feb. 26 at the beginning of Lent. It will remain on until Easter. However, McMahon has asked city attorneys to look into leasing the Fire Tower to a private group that oversaw its renovation a few years ago, or selling it to the group for a nominal amount with a right of first refusal for the city to buy it back if it is ever sold. He thinks this might prevent an Establishment Clause challenge to the display, though he in not sure whether City Council would support the move.