Tenn. city council protects crosses from atheist group seeking their removal

by Trinity Cardinal

Megan Udinski, FISM News


Religious freedom wins against an atheist organization seeking the removal of crosses from city land. In Elizabethton, Tennessee city attorney Roger Day argued for crosses on city property to be constitutional and unnecessary to be removed.

Three crosses can be seen on Lynn Mountain and were erected in the 1950s by some neighborhood boys who made them as part of an Easter project. Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) first raised an issue with the crosses violating the Establishment Clause in the U.S. constitution in 2018.

Karen Heineman, a representative for FFRF, explained the group’s main concern is a violation of the separation of church and state. She stated, “Our concern is we have these three Latin crosses, which are … defined as being religiously associated with Christianity. And we suspect at least some city funds are going to maintain them, lighting them up. And that’s our concern. We feel the Constitution says otherwise, that that’s not OK.”

She emphasized, “Our complaint is with using government funds. To use those funds to illuminate those crosses does not show respect for members of the community who are not Christian.”Her desire is for the city to turn over the land to a privately owned individual to stop funding the illumination and care of the crosses with taxpayer money. Unfortunately, we know that taxpayer money gets used in ways most constituents would not support such as Christians being required to pay taxes that support unbiblical legislation such as abortion.

Day cited the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, ruling 7-2 that a 40-foot cross on public property in Maryland did not violate the Establishment Clause. He wrote, “I agree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in American Legion which held that ‘long standing monuments, symbols, and practices’ with ‘religious associations’ have a ‘presumption of constitutionality.” He continued stating that “a religious symbol on government property doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause if it has taken on a secular meaning.”

In a telephone interview, Heineman argued that the symbolism of the crosses in the two cases are vastly different and that the Maryland cross was erected in 1918 to honor World War I veterans. She hypothesized that the crosses erected by the boys in Tennessee may have been done in an act of trespassing. While the conjecture could draw some doubt about the legitimacy of the crosses, the district attorney was clear in his decision to allow the crosses to remain on city-owned property.

First Liberty, a conservative law firm that focuses on religious liberty cases, argued that the crosses’ location does not make them unconstitutional. Senior counselor, Roger Byron explained, “When you have an established display or established monument like the three cross display there in Elizabethton, Tennessee, it is presumed to be constitutional….And to prove it unconstitutional is a very difficult thing to do.”