This is the APPLE Biter Blog, commentary and news on local religion and secular government.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bayview Park Cross Violates Establishment Clause, Legal HELP Letter!

This issue has heated up since it was first brought to me by a group that rented space in the park a few months ago.  They know I love this stuff and I've been working on it since.

When the City made it clear they would not meet with me or compromise - perhaps by making the cross into an (appropriate) anchor or removing it when not in use by a church, I posted the issue to the East Hill Neighborhood Association's Facebook page.  Their (predictable) responses are in another post.

Here's the cross, on City property:

BELOW is the history, as I understand it, encapsulated in a letter I wrote to several legal organizations when I realized that action would be necessary to bring change.  I will post their letter/s once they are sent.

Dear <insert legal organization to be named later>

I'm sorry I don't have more definitive information.  But I want to summarize what I know, in hopes you will draft a letter to the city attorney ( mayor (, Parks head ( and anyone else who might effect the removal of this cross.

The Bayview park cross (15-20' tall) was erected sometime in the 1940s or 50s.  It was always on City property.  I have not found an exact date or learned who placed it, despite hours searching microfilm of the local newspapers.  The stage was erected in 1951 and bears an inoffensive memorial plaque.  There are no other historical markers related to the cross.  A public records request to the City for info on when/by whom it was erected has yielded no results.

The cross has served only one purpose - for Easter sunrise services, once very popular there.  In the mid-century, they had thousands attend and it was presided over by several churches who shared worship duties.  Those services resumed recently, smaller and sponsored by a nearby church.  The cross remains up year-round, with or without Easter services.  A planned re-design of the park leaves the cross in place.

I recently (finally) received an answer from Brian Cooper, head of City Parks.  He said "The City of Pensacola owns Bayview Park. The amphitheater and accompanying features belongs to the City of Pensacola. All information related to this particular portion of Bayview Park, that we could readily put our fingers on, has been provided to the City Attorney's office in response to your public records request."

My understanding (undocumented) is that the cross was replaced at least once since the original (rounded) cross placed by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. I think that happened recently (within last 30 years) and at the expense of the City.  I can't say for sure.  I have requested records for repair or replacement of the cross.  They were returned with a cost estimate I am not willing to pay until I have legal counsel.  I may try to refine my search to lower the cost.

I have also suggested a reasonable accommodation that involves storing the cross somewhere or donating it to a church.  They could then alter the base so that anyone who rents that part of the park may place their own symbol (including the cross) when they hold events there.  For the most part, no one uses that stage except the Easter Sunday organizers.  After all, who wants a huge cross behind their event except Christians?

Until today, I've kept this issue quiet.  One Facebook post ended that and the public response has not been favorable.  Mostly, they say it doesn't hurt anyone and it should stay.  I disagree, because I see the favor offered to Christians alone.  Others have suggested allowing a variety of religious icons should be allowed... quickly mentioning that they would be vandalized soon after.  Few understand that the City should not allow any religious symbols to be permanently erected on public property.  No matter, as this is not about public opinion.

At this point, I can do no more by myself.  I am requesting that you PLEASE write the City, citing applicable case law, and suggest that they remove the cross.  Only a serious letter from an organization like yours is likely to prompt action.

I will continue my research and report any results.  In the meantime, I would appreciate a yes or no answer about drafting said letter.

in Reason,
David Suhor

1 comment:

  1. Large groups of Pagans have gathered under that cross in the park without being offended, being harmed or crying about it. I'm sick of the minority tyrants like you seeking to censor anyone and anything that doesn't espouse your own ideas. It is a piece of history, perhaps of a culture other than your own, but it's been there before you ever set foot on the property. But your weak little mind is so offended by it that you have to go to such lengths to tear it down. The first ammendment wasn't created to protect your eyes from any signs of other religions. It protects you from being forced to worship in a religion not of your choosing. This right remains intact, despite the presence of the Cross in Bayview park. I am not a Christian but I am also not a professional censor crybaby who feels threatened by the presence of a cross in a park. It's been there since I was a little girl and it's an icon in that park. Please grow up, grow a set, and stop trying to use the constitution to censor and control everything that is not a part of your personal philosophy. That's a perversion of it's purpose.