A small white cross is sparking a big battle over church-state separatism in Searcy, Ark., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that a local police chief remove the religious symbol from public property.
The cross was planted in the ground outside the Searcy Police Department before Police Chief Jeremy Clark started in his current position last year.
Clark told KARK-TV that he had no idea how it got there, but that he has no plans to remove it, despite the Wisconsin-based atheist group’s prodding.
“Someone put it there, I didn’t put it there, I don’t know who did. I wasn’t going to remove it just because this organization in another state told us that we should,” he said of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s efforts. “We’re here serving the citizens of Searcy and I don’t feel like we’ve done anything to offend them.”
But the atheist organization — known for waging similar battles across the nation over perceived violations of the separation of church and state — is arguing that, by leaving the cross in place, the police department is showing government endorsement of religion.
“It’s such a simple remedy. All they (Searcy) have to do is remove the cross, and if the police chief is partial to it, he can put it on his own lawn,” Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told KARK-TV.
Former Chief Kyle Osborne, who retired last year, told The Daily Citizen that the cross was placed on the property in 2011 after being made by members of the St. Paul United Methodist Church.
“The St. Paul guys passed those out all over town and you still see them all the time,” he said. “One day an officer asked me about putting it out there and I said it was OK. If it was up to me, I’d absolutely keep that cross up.”