Federal Judges Hear Arguments on Ind. Church Cross Display Case

A federal appeals court heard arguments Tuesday over an Indiana church's plan to display multiple, 6-foot tall crosses along their city's riverfront for a charity fundraiser.

West Side Christian Church in Evansville, Ind., appealed a lower court ban that ruled the crosses would convey an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the city while arguing that the display is a freedom of speech issue.

"No one should single out a faith-based group for censorship. The Constitution protects and does not prohibit religious expression in the public square," said Bryan Beauman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a statement. "A public display, approved in the same way as other types of displays, cannot be excluded simply because it is in the shape of a cross."

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According to One News Now, Beauman considered the arguments to have gone well, but is uncertain how the court might rule.

"The court was very attentive and engaging, and recognizes the fact that you can't charge a city official to exercise censorship and eradicate speech from the public square just because it's religious in nature," said Beauman.

Nancy Tarsitano Drake, one of two Evansville area residents who sued the city after they approved the church's display request, was at the seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago with her lawyers during the arguments. According to The Associated Press, Drake wants the case to make its way to the Supreme Court.  

The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of Drake and Chris Cabral last July and asked a federal judge in Indianapolis to stop the display because they said it would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

In June 2013, the Evansville Board of Public Works approved a request made by West Side Christian Church and other partnering congregations to post 30 decorated crosses alongside a popular riverfront for two weeks in August for an event known as "Cross the River." Members of each church were set to paint the crosses in an effort to raise money for local charities.

Four days before the display was to go up, a judge issued an injunction that halted their plans. The crosses were later set up in the parking lot of an old factory.

The court did not specify when a decision in the case will be made. 

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