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Maryland Case May Determine Fate of Cross

Jim Little

Pensacola News Journal USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

The fate of Pensacola’s Bayview Park cross may come down to how federal judges in Atlanta interpret a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a century-old cross in Maryland.

Attorneys for both sides of the Pensacola cross lawsuit filed new legal arguments in federal court Friday, making their cases for why the cross should stay or go based on the new high court ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in June that a 40-foot cross erected in 1919 as a World War I memorial on public land in Maryland did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The court noted the Bladensburg cross had been standing for a century and served a secular purpose.

Shortly after that ruling, the high court kicked the Pensacola cross case back down to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, instructing the appeals court to rehear the case in light of the Maryland case.

The fate of Pensacola’s Bayview Park cross will come down to how federal judges in Atlanta interpret a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a century-old cross in Maryland. GREGG PACHKOWSKI/PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL

Attorneys with the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation argue the ruling in that case — 

also known as the American Legion case — does not apply to Pensacola’s cross. In their legal brief, they argue the purpose of Pensacola’s cross has always been religious and removing it is the only neutral thing the city can do.

“While there was ample evidence in American Legion that the public embraced the Bladensburg Cross as a secular war memorial, no such evidence exists here,” AHA attorneys wrote. “The City, and community members all plainly view this Cross as an expression of Christian faith.”

However, attorneys for the city argue the Bladensburg case means the appeals court must rule in favor of the city because Pensacola’s cross has stood in one form or another since1941and has become part of the city’s history and culture.

“Today, the City allows the cross to remain standing, along with over 170 other displays in Pensacola’s parks, not only to commemorate the City’s history and culture but also to avoid sending a message of ‘hostility toward religion,’ ” the city’s attorneys wrote in their brief.

The American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the city of Pensacola in 2016 on behalf of four Pensacola residents who wanted the cross to be removed.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in June 2017 that the Bavyiew Park cross violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and had to be removed.

The city appealed the case with representation from the Becket Fund law firm, but the appeals court said it was bound to uphold the lower court’s ruling because of the Supreme Court’s previous rulings.

No hearing has been set for the case.

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.

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