Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Latin Cross In City Park Violates Establishment Clause

In Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola, Florida, (ND FL, June 19, 2017), a clearly reluctant Florida federal district court judge held that a 34-foot concrete Latin Cross that has stood in the city's Bayview Park for decades violates the Establishment Clause.  The cross is the site for an annual Easter sunrise service as well as remembrance services on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  The court laments:
... the historical record indicates that the Founding Fathers did not intend for the Establishment Clause to ban crosses and religious symbols from public property. Indeed, “the enlightened patriots who framed our constitution” ... would have most likely found this lawsuit absurd. And if I were deciding this case on a blank slate, I would agree and grant the plaintiffs no relief. But, alas, that is not what we have here.
The court concluded that  ACLU of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, a 1983 case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals involving "this exact issue on virtually identical facts" required it to conclude that the Bayview Cross violates the Establishment clause under the Lemon test. The court concluded:
To be clear: None of this is to say that the cross would have to come down if the City sold or leased the area surrounding it to a private party or non-governmental entity (so long as the transfer was bona fide and not a subterfuge). Nor would there be a constitutional problem with worshipers using a temporary cross for their services in the park.... However, after about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.
The American Humanist Association issued a press release on the decision, with links to various pleadings in the case.