After coming under attack by a pair of atheist nonprofit groups, the 78-year-old cross that stands in Pensacola, Florida’s Bayview Park was protected by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court ruled last week that the 34-foot-tall monument, which was built ahead of World War II as a community gathering place, does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court has now made clear that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of Becket, a legal group that specializes in defending religious liberty.
According to a press release from Becket, the court ruled that the cross was “embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community” and that removing it could “strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”
The lawsuit was initiated back in 2016 when four individuals, represented by the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued the city and demanded that the cross be torn down.
“Pensacola is a historic city with a rich and diverse history,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, celebrating the ruling.
“The Bayview Cross is an important part of that history as a symbol of our community’s coming together during a national crisis,” Robinson said. “Today the citizens of Pensacola will celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross.”
According to Fox News, the decision follows the June 2019 Supreme Court’s landmark religious liberty case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which First Liberty Institute successfully defended a similar World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland.
“The Supreme Court made clear in The American Legion decision that the days of governments roaming the land to scrub all public symbols of faith are over,” said Mike Berry, general counsel to First Liberty Institute. “We’re thrilled to see our victory in that case already making an impact and protecting religious freedom across the country.”
American Humanist Association legal director and senior counsel Monica Miller, however, called the decision a “devastating blow” to the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
“It is troubling to see the court attack the principle of church-state separation that was held dear by our Founders,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Today’s decision is part of the religious right’s ongoing crusade to privilege Christianity at the expense of true religious freedom for all.”
Had these atheists been successful, the very image of a cross being torn down would have sent a clear message to Pensacola’s many Christian residents: “you are not welcome here.”
Praise God that this judge saw reason and protected this monument, but pray that our nation would come to see the cross as more than just a statue in a park. Pray that we would turn to the Lord with all our hearts!
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