Court to decide fate of historic Pensacola cross

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City urges federal appeals court to preserve 77-year-old landmark

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Melinda Skea

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The city of Pensacola, Florida, was in court today defending a historic World War II-era landmark from an atheist group suing to tear it down. In Kondrat’yev, et al v. City of Pensacola, the city of Pensacola, represented by Becket, appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to preserve a 77-year old cross located in a public park after a lower court ordered its removal.

The cross was placed in Pensacola’s 28-acre Bayview Park in 1941 by a local community service group as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II. For decades, the cross has been the site of numerous community events, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day services, and is one of over 170 other displays in Pensacola’s parks. Together, these displays tell the story of the city’s rich history and culture.

“Religious symbols aren’t like graffiti that the government should erase as soon as someone complains,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a non-profit religious liberty law firm representing the city. “The Constitution allows the government to recognize the significant role of religion in our nation’s history and culture.”

In 2016, the American Humanist Association sued the city on behalf of four individuals who said the cross was offensive. Two of those people live in Canada; the third lives outside the city; and the fourth has used the cross for his own “satanic purposes.” Last year, a federal judge ruled that the cross violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and must be torn down. However, the ruling relied on the notorious Lemon test, which the Supreme Court has rejected as inconsistent with the historical meaning of the Constitution.

The city has received a groundswell of support from fourteen states, five major Jewish groups, and an association of attorneys representing cities across the country. The broad coalition of religious and secular groups filed several friend-of-the-court briefs urging the court to protect the 77-year-old landmark from being torn down.

“Pensacola is proud of the pivotal role it has played in American history – and we should be free to celebrate that history,” said Ashton Hayward, mayor of Pensacola. “The cross was erected by local Pensacolans who wanted to come together on the eve of World War II, and it continues to serve as a reminder of our city’s rich history and culture.”

A decision is expected by the court in late summer.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).

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