(Washington D.C., November 19, 2018) – The American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), led by AHA Senior Counsel Monica Miller, just filed their Brief in Opposition at the Supreme Court of the United States. Today’s brief opposes the City of Pensacola’s efforts to overturn the freethought organizations’ victory for church-state separation, in which the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the City’s immense Christian cross towering over Bayview Park violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“The city failed to present a question that demands Supreme Court review,” explains Miller. “Federal courts have uniformly recognized that a government’s freestanding Christian cross display violates the Establishment Clause. This is especially true of crosses maintained for exclusively religious ends, such as Pensacola’s cross, which serves as the centerpiece for annual Christian worship services.”
The American Humanist Association, in conjunction with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed their complaint on behalf of local residents in the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida in 2016. The complaint contended that the 34-foot-tall cross overwhelming Bayview Park and maintained by the City of Pensacola represents a clear preference for the Christian faith over other beliefs and non-belief, violating the First Amendment and the wall of separation between church and state.
The District Court sided with the national secular organizations in a June 2017 decision, ordering the removal of the City’s massive Christian cross. In early fall of 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, agreeing that the government-funded, freestanding cross unconstitutionally entangled the government with the Christian faith. On September 17, 2018, the City of Pensacola petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari and overturn the ruling.
“This huge city-sponsored cross impermissibly signals that Pensacola has a Christian government and that Christian citizens are favored. We are legally and morally in the right,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Today’s filing demonstrates that Supreme Court review is unwarranted, highlighting numerous Supreme Court cases concerning unconstitutional religious displays and language condemning large standalone crosses specifically, and the consistency of Circuit Court decisions finding government cross displays unconstitutional.
“All residents of Pensacola have the right to enjoy the parks that their tax dollars maintain,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We are looking forward to a city park that is welcoming to all.”
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans, including over 2,800 members in Florida. 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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