Crosses on public property have a way of creating angst among secularists. In Rhode Island, atheists are fighting a World War I and II memorial that includes the religious symbol. Then, there's the Mt. Soledad War Memorial in San Diego -- yet another target for those embracing non-belief. The latest dispute, though, is taking place in Dugger, Indiana, where a 26-foot cross that has the message "Jesus Saves" on it has become ground zero in the debate surrounding the First Amendment.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that consistently advocates against religion in the public square, is threatening to sue over the cross' presence, as it is currently on a public plot of land (you can read the complaint here). Here's a portion of the group's threatening letter that was sent to the town:
We have received a complaint that since 2010, the Town of Dugger has displayed a large cross—bearing the phrase “Jesus Saves”—on Town land. Although the cross was built by a local church, then-Town Council President Bill Pirtle acknowledged that “the town of Dugger owns the property, and it’s just like putting it in our yard.” ... We also understand that the Town plans to install a sign for the Town’s schools next to the cross and that the Town is considering supplying electricity to both the cross and the sign. See id. Because the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting religion on public land or financing efforts to do the same, we request that the Town promptly transfer the cross to a private entity for display on private property and cancel any plans to provide electricity or other financial support to the display or maintenance of the cross.
The cross was placed on the land by Faith Community Church, a local house of worship in the small 955-person town. Following local government approval, it was erected two years ago near a high school baseball field.
"It's a pretty flagrant display of the government saying 'this is a Christian town,'" Gregory Lipper, senior counsel of the AUSCS, told Fox News. "Everyone gets freedom of religion...just because Christianity is this country's religious majority doesn't mean that they get to put their thumb on the scale and use taxpayer dollars."
With the church-state separatist group calling the continued placement of the cross "unconstitutional," the town is faced with a difficult decision. The land that the symbol is on costs only $3,000 and residents cannot afford a lengthy and costly court battle to defend it. So, according to Dugger Town Board President Dwight Nielsen, the land may be sold to a group of churches in an effort to ease tensions.
Shawn Farris, pastor of Faith Community Church, rejects the notion that the town was endorsing Christianity by allowing the church to erect the cross.
"We wanted people to be able to see what the message of the cross represents and get it out to the world in need," Farris told Fox. "We knew it was okay because when you look at the separation between church and state, it's just a fact that the government couldn't tell people how to worship...it would be the same if they allowed a crescent moon to be put up."
The town board's decision to remove the cross may be rectified if churches purchase the land. In this instance, the symbol wouldn't need to be moved and the government's involvement with the land would no longer be of issue.
(H/T: Fox News)