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One person complained to atheist group about cross on a mural — and now its future is in doubt


But a petition to keep the cross has attracted more than 22,000 signatures

Image source: WCIA-TV video screenshot

It often seems as though the ball gets rolling with the Freedom From Religion Foundation after one local individual sees a faith-based symbol on public property or notices a faith-based action by public officials, doesn't like it, and complains to the atheist activist group.

And that's exactly what's going down in Effingham, Illinois, as the FFRF penned a Dec. 18 to letter to Mayor Mike Schutzbach, saying one local resident didn't appreciate seeing a cross on a mural, the Effingham Daily News reported.

What's the beef?

The mural on the wall of the Raney Street overpass shows an American flag and white Latin cross with light emanating from it, the paper said.

Image source: WCIA-TV video screenshot

The cross on the mural is a depiction of the city's famous 200-foot Cross at the Crossroads, the paper added, which has stood near an interstate highway since 2001 and is supported by a faith-based group representing numerous denominations.

Image source: WCIA-TV video screenshot

But the mural is on city property, the Daily News said — which makes the cross potentially problematic and even perhaps in violation of the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion or favoring one religion over another.

Passionate voices at city council meeting

The paper said it was standing room only at Effingham City Hall last week as numerous residents told council members to leave the cross alone.

"One can only be offended by a cross, if you choose to be offended," according to a statement by Beverly Soltwedel, which was read by her brother-in-law, Norbert Soltwedel, the Daily News said.

"I was coming home from my mother's house yesterday, and I looked up in the sky. The jet stream made a perfect cross," Soltwedel continued, according to the paper. "I thought to myself, 'Should we ground all jets because the jet stream made a cross?' None of us stand at the gate of the tunnel and ask you if you are a believer or not."

Dale Spindler told the council to not be intimidated by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Daily News said. "The mural does not force religion on anyone," he said. "It depicts the landscape from the football field, which happens to include this landmark of the Effingham area."

Jarrett Jones started the Change.org petition to keep the cross on the mural and defended the cross as a former athlete, the paper said.

"I played football on the football field all four years," Jones said, according to the Daily News. "As someone who has walked through that tunnel more times than I can count, here's what I see. I see community involvement for art. That mural was paid for by individuals and businesses. The full name of the tunnel is 'The Tunnel of Pride.' We are a community of pride."

He also said the cross isn't a religious symbol.

"It's not just any cross — but our cross," Jones added, according the paper. "The cross is our main landmark visible for miles. For the community of Effingham, the cross depicted on the tunnel isn't a spiritual symbol, but a symbol of our community. It is a symbol of hardworking, generous people who support each other. The cross is what Effingham is known for and it should be saved."

What do city officials have to say?

"The city was unaware it would include a religious symbol," city administrator Steve Miller said, the Daily News noted. "The city has initiated a preliminary review of this matter with assistance of legal counsel."

City attorney Tracy Willenborg issued a statement, the paper said: "The city is of the opinion that the mural at issue does not constitute a violation of the establishment clause, as it constitutes purely private speech, having been placed by a private organization with a message that was not and has not been approved or adopted by the city. The city, however, is currently evaluating options relative to the use of the headwall, including the current mural, as well as evaluating the risks associated with each potential option."

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