Freethought Today · December 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF gets legal backing in Florida cross case

14 groups have signed amicus brief in support of judge's decision

FFRF's legal action to remove an unconstitutional and massive Christian cross from a Florida city park has received a major boost.

More than a dozen organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of FFRF's lawsuit to remove a 34-foot Latin cross towering over Pensacola's Bayview Park. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is the main group writing the brief, with 13 other organizations joining in, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Inquiry, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition.

On the opposing side, 14 states previously filed a friend of the court brief siding with the city of Pensacola in its appeal to keep the Bayview Park cross. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 13 other state attorneys general in signing on to a brief written by Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall's office.

FFRF and the American Humanist Association earned a major legal victory this past summer when Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that "the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property." Vinson ordered the cross removed within a month.

Regrettably, the city appealed the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF and AHA and their co-plaintiffs in November filed an appeals brief asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court's decision. The amicus brief — and the heft of the 14 other organizations behind it — greatly bolsters the secular case with its persuasive arguments.

"When government displays a towering symbol of one religion on public land, it communicates an impermissible message of favoritism and exclusion that stigmatizes nonadherents while also demeaning the faith of many adherents," the brief states.

The brief powerfully lists the many problems with the cross.

"The official display of the Latin cross — the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity — sends divisive and harmful messages that are directly contrary to this fundamental objective: It tells members of other religions, or of no religion, that they are excluded, second-class citizens," it says. "It co-opts the Latin cross's spiritual content for governmental purposes, offending many Christians. And it divides communities along religious lines."

It compellingly concludes, "The judgment here is thus not only doctrinally compelled but also historically justified and critically important to prevent religiously based civil strife that would intrude on our fundamental commitment to religious freedom for all."

The other groups signing on to the brief are: the ACLU of Florida, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Union for Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism.

The plaintiffs in the case are Amanda Kondrat'yev, Andreiy Kondrat'yev, David Suhor and Andre Ryland. The case was brought by both FFRF and AHA, and handled by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler and AHA's senior counsel Monica Miller and legal director David Niose.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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