U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled on June 19 that a Christian cross that has stood for 48 years in a public park in Pensacola, Florida, will have to be taken down within 30 days.
The cross' presence was challenged by four Escambia County residents on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state because the park is owned by the city government, notes the Pensacola News Journal.
The American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of the residents in 2016.
Vernon Stewart, a spokesman for the city of Pensacola, said on June 19: "We are currently in the process of reviewing this with our legal counsel. However, Mayor Hayward is traveling, and he will be the one to ultimately decide how to proceed."
Monica Miller, a lawyer with the American Humanist Association, said in a news release: "We are pleased that the Court struck down this Cross as violative of the First Amendment. The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons, and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional."
However, the Friendly Atheist notes that many people on Facebook were not pleased with Miller. At least one user posted Miller's picture and work phone number, and multiple users attacked her with obscene language.
Evangelist Franklin Graham released a longer statement on Facebook:
Even though thousands upon thousands of people have been blessed a cross here for over 75 years, because four people complained (two of whom we’re told have since moved to Canada), a federal judge has ruled that this 34-foot tall cross on public property in Pensacola, FL, has to come down.
We have organizations like the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation to thank for ridiculous changes like this. The Bible tells us that the cross is an offense. That's because it represents the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the grave after three days to redeem us from the penalty of our sins.
I agree with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee—they could donate that spot and the cross there to an independent organization to keep it up. Or—Christians and churches in Pensacola could multiply that cross by 100x across that city and others. Even better yet, we could multiply the message of the cross by sharing the Gospel with everyone we know "for it is the power of God unto salvation."
The American Humanist Association's press release stated that the problem was that the cross was displayed on government land, where it was "maintained by taxpayer money [and] was an overt endorsement of Christianity above other religions."
Miller responded to the angry criticism with a statement to the Friendly Atheist:
Although I’ve been the latest target of angry Christians who are upset with the law, which forbids a city from promoting their religious symbol, I have also received an outpouring of support from Christians and Atheists alike who understand the importance of separation of church and state.
My job is to enforce compliance with the First Amendment and that’s what I did. Even Reagan-appointed Judge Vinson understood that this cross is a plain violation of the First Amendment.