The religiously conservative Kentucky community of Wilmore has resisted a request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that it remove a large cross that sits atop the local water tower. Now, the student body of the town’s college has sent a letter about the cross.
On Sept. 29, FFRF, based in Madison, Wisconsin, sent an email to Mayor Harold Rainwater of Wilmore, Kentucky, requesting the town remove the giant cross that adorns its water tower.
The water tower is designated as public property, which FFRF notes should not be subject to broadcasting a religious preference.
“It is unlawful for Wilmore to display a patently religious symbol such as a Christian cross on public property,” the email read, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
The water tower is within the campus of Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts college that is the centerpiece of the Wilmore community.
The college had built and owned the water tower, along with the cross fixture, for years until the city took control of the water and sewer systems, transferring the tower over to public domain.
Rainwater has steadfastly refused to take down the cross.
“In nearly 40 years, no one has ever complained about this cross except this group,” Rainwater said. “It means a lot to us. It’s important to our town. There’s nothing that’s drawn our town together more than the possibility of losing this cross.”
The mayor has refused to respond to FFRF, reasoning that he will not humor an email and will instead only answer when sent a proper letter.
“We literally call ourselves the city below the cross,” Rainwater adds, stressing that Wilmore is a deeply religious community and that the fixture atop the water tower is an intrinsic part of its identity.
The people of Wilmore have shared the mayor’s indignation. Sheila and Lewis Nighy cobbled together 130 hand-held crosses to distribute to neighbors and friends in protest, WKYT reports.
“We saw the letter and I said, ‘Take down our cross? We’ll put op more!’” Sheila said, adding that she would be open to other religions to erect their symbols around the town if that would make the prominence of the cross fair.
Now Asbury University Student Congress has intervened, sending a letter to FFRF stressing that the cross represents the town’s cultural history. The letter also said that if the cross is inevitably taken down, it will not alter Wilmore’s overwhelming identification with Christianity, according to The Asbury Collegian.
The letter was written to “be an encouragement to students, and that it would show the way that we should be responding to this issue as Christians,” said ASC Student Body President Meredith Anderson.
“Although it is a city issue, and not necessarily a campus issue, we felt that the students of Asbury should respond in some way to the organization since the water tower is so close to our campus, but in love rather than hate.”