Ban on Display of Crosses at Indiana City's Riverfront Property Contested By Church

An Evansville, Ind., area church filed an appeal Wednesday in an ACLU lawsuit over the display of up to 31 temporary crosses at the city's popular riverfront. A federal district court issued an injunction last month saying that the crosses cannot be displayed in the same manner as other community group displays, according to allied attorneys representing the congregation.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled last month that the proposed display at Evansville would be a government endorsement of Christianity, thus violating the First Amendment.

However, Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers say it is government officials who are in violation of the Constitution for singling out the crosses display.

"Government officials should not be allowed to unconstitutionally single out faith-based groups for censorship," said Bryan Beauman of Alliance Defending Freedom. "A public display, approved in the same way as other types of displays, cannot be singled out for censorship simply because it is in the shape of a cross."

In June, the Evansville Board of Public Works approved a request by West Side Christian Church for it and up to 30 other participating churches to display painted and decorated crosses along the city's popular riverfront for two weeks in August in an event known as "Cross the River," according to ADF. Each participating church was scheduled to paint and decorate a cross and display it during the event in an effort to raise money for local charities.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Vanderburgh County residents after the city approved the churches' permit to display the crosses. In July, ADF allied attorneys filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the churches, which the court granted with respect to one of the churches.

"This misinterpretation of the First Amendment should not be allowed to uproot the fundamental freedoms that the Constitution guarantees to all Americans," added Chris Wischer of the Evansville law firm Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald and Hahn, LLP, who serves as co-counsel for the churches along with Beauman, who is with Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC, of Lexington, Ky.

In her ruling last month, Barker wrote, "…based on the size and scope of the project, this planned display of crosses would convey a message of the City's endorsement of Christianity to the reasonable observer."

At the time, Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana attorney, said in a statement that he was "extremely happy" with the decision.

"The City cannot dissociate itself from a religious display in the public right-of-way simply because it would be erected at the urging of a private party," said Rose.

This month, the 6-foot tall crosses that were barred from Evansville's public riverfront were instead displayed in a parking lot along a busy street, according to AP. The site was used as a temporary resting place for the display, said Roger Lehman, a West Side Church member.