City, Park Cross Targeted in Humanist Lawsuit

May 4, 2016

Credit wuwf.org

The City of Pensacola is the defendant in a lawsuit filed over the 25-foot Christian cross at city-owned Bayview Park.

The litigation – filed Wednesday -- is the latest salvo in a ten-month running dispute over the cross in the park, between the city and the American Humanist Association, based in Washington, D.C.

“We are contending that this is a violation of the Establishment Clause to the United States Constitution,” said Rebecca Markert, a staff attorney with the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Standing in the park for roughly a half-century, the cross is also the site of the annual Easter Sunrise worship service, which is hosted by a rotating group of churches. Next to it is a plaque referencing Easter.

“This was a discussion on our Facebook page about the cross, and a lot of our Facebook followers had different opinions about it,” said Mike Thomas, a member of the East Hill Neighborhood Association Board. He says one compromise could be to allow them to lease the land, on which the cross stands, with some possible additions. 

“I think the Board would be open to any religious organization that wanted to fund a symbol on that property, and make it open to any religious organization that wanted to hold a service there, as it should be,” Thomas said.

But, he adds that at this point, there doesn’t appear to have been any formal talks with the city about a lease for the site -- which, nearly a year later, still rings true according to attorney Rebecca Markert.

“Both FFRF and the American Humanist Association had sent a letter to the city last year,” said Markert. “And we never received any sort of response.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Bayview Cross is unconstitutional, order it removed, and enjoin the city from placing such displays on public land in the future.

The city has 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit. Neither Mayor Hayward nor City Attorney Lysia Bowling were available for comment.