An atheist activist group that is demanding the removal of a Christian cross atop a water tower in Wilmore, Kentucky, is facing some push-back from the city's mayor, who said that he has no immediate plans to take it down.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked officials to remove the cross, which is owned by the city but is on property at Asbury University, a private, Christian school, calling its presence "unlawful," WLEX-TV reported.
"The Wilmore cross, displayed on the city water tower, unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity," read a September 29 letter. "It conveys the message to the nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population who are not Christians that they are not ‘favored members of the political community.'"
A screen shot from the Wilmore city website that features the water tower (top right)
The issue at hand is that the water tower is owned by the city and has "WILMORE" printed on it in large letters — a dynamic that poses a First Amendment conundrum, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"We are aware that the water tower itself stands on the campus of Asbury University, a private Christian college, but this is irrelevant," the letter continued. "Any reasonable observer would understand the city to endorse any messages on the water tower because the water tower has ‘WILMORE’ printed on it in large letters, and because the tower is displayed on the city’s website to represent the city’s water and sewage services."
But Mayor Harold Rainwater, who also teaches at Asbury University, is standing his ground, according to WLEX-TV.
"There’s a groundswell of support to keep [the cross] and I’m certainly going to fight to keep it with everything I’ve got," Rainwater told the Jessamine Journal. "I think it’s symbolic of our town. I 100-percent support keeping it there. We won’t take it down unless we’re forced to take it down."
The cross was placed on the tower when the university owned it, though Wilmore took ownership back in 1976, with the contract between the two parties mandating that the cross be kept in place.
The college pays the electric bill for the cross, which has never cost the city anything, Rainwater said.
"The contract said the cross stayed on the tower as part of the deal. Whether that’s legal and whether that can stand up to the pressure of folks who don’t want crosses and don’t want the Ten Commandments, we’ll see," Rainwater said. "When [the cross] was put there, Wilmore was called 'the town under the cross.' I think 'the town under the cross’ is symbolic of Wilmore."
Rainwater is waiting for more official action to be taken by the Freedom From Religion Foundation before he makes a move, with atheists demanding that the cross be removed and that a picture of it on the Wilmore website be taken down. Read more about the dispute here.
This story follows a 2011 dispute surrounding the same issue in Whiteville, Tennessee, with officials lopping off one of the arms of the cross in an effort to satisfy atheists' demands.
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