(Washington, D.C., September 10, 2018) – Two of the nation’s leading secular organizations have scored a resounding victory for the First Amendment’s principle of church-state separation.
In a pivotal federal decision released late Friday, September 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the City of Pensacola’s large, freestanding Latin cross towering over Bayview Park violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“The Eleventh Circuit’s decision properly recognized controlling precedent requires the removal of this enormous government-owned Christian cross prominently displayed in a popular city park,” says Monica Miller, AHA’s Senior Counsel and lead counsel on the case. “The decision harmonizes with decades of Establishment Clause precedent finding similar government cross displays unconstitutional.”
In 2016, two of the country’s leading secular organizations, the American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), filed suit against the City of Pensacola on behalf of local residents, challenging the city’s 34-foot-tall Christian cross prominently displayed in a popular city park. The city’s exclusively Christian monolith has been used for annual Christian worship services since its inception. Following a hearing in June 2017, the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida sided with the AHA and FFRF, declaring that “the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property” because it violates the Establishment Clause.
The city appealed the case to the Eleventh Circuit. Today, the conservative appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision that the cross must be removed.
While secular leaders condemn the city’s decision to waste more taxpayer funds by appealing the sound ruling to the Eleventh Circuit, the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation celebrate today’s decision affirming that a city’s Christian cross is an obvious violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
“Reason and the Constitution have prevailed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The court has affirmed that individuals of minority faiths or no faith at all are full citizens of this country and may not be excluded or proselytized by their government.”
“It’s reassuring that the court recognized the illegality of an overtly Christian cross conspicuously displayed in Bayview Park,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA. “As the City of Pensacola complies with the court’s direction, it is our hope that this park becomes an inclusive space for all.”
The case was handled by AHA’s Senior Counsel Monica Miller and Legal Director David Niose, and FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate. With roughly 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including 1,600-plus and a chapter in Florida, the organization also educates the public about nontheism.
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