Florida City Asks Court to Reject Atheists' Demands to Tear Down Cross at State Park

The historic 34-foot cross stands in Bayview Park in Pensacola, Florida. | (PHOTO: CHANGE.ORG)

A Florida city is appealing a decision that forces it to remove a 75-year-old cross display from a public park due to an atheist group's complaint and threat of a potential lawsuit.

The city of Pensacola filed an appeal in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday with the hopes of reversing a lower court decision from June ruling that they must remove the cross from Bayview Park.

"Pensacola has an obvious secular purpose for allowing the cross to remain: to preserve the city's history and culture. Plaintiffs have not identified any evidence that this purpose is a sham," read the appeal for the case known as Kondrat'yev, et al v. City of Pensacola.

"This court should vacate and remand, with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. Alternatively, if the court reaches the merits, the decision of the district court should be reversed and the case remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the city."

The appeal also argued that the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuit "lack standing to sue" the city over the cross display for various reasons.

A 34-foot cross at Bayview Park in Pensacola, Florida. | (Screengrab:WKRG)

"Two plaintiffs submitted no evidence of standing and have since left the country. The third plaintiff does not live in Pensacola and has suffered no cognizable injury," noted the appeal.

"The last plaintiff not only lacks any injury, but negated any claim of injury by reserving the cross and using it for his own 'satanic purposes.'"

Pensacola is being represented by Becket, a law firm based in Washington, D.C. that specializes in religious liberty litigation.

Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket, said in a statement that "Pensacola has a rich history, and it shouldn't have to censor that history just because part of it is religious."

"The constitution doesn't treat religion like a nasty habit that must be hidden from public view; it treats it as a natural and valuable part of human culture. Pensacola can treat religion the same way," stated Goodrich.

The current cross at Bayview Park was constructed in 1969 by a civic organization called the Pensacola Jaycees, replacing a wooden cross erected at the site in 1941.

Amanda Kondrat'yev, Andreiy Kondrat'yev, David Suhor, and Andre Ryland, filed the lawsuit against Pensacola in May 2016 over the presence of the cross.

The plaintiffs received were represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association.

Monica Miller, senior counsel at the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement released in April that the Bayview cross "violates the Constitution, as numerous courts have made clear."

"By prominently displaying a massive Christian cross on government property, the City is sending a strong message to its citizens that Christians are preferred," stated Miller.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled against the cross, concluding that the cross had to be removed due to the judicial precedent of the Lemon Test, which says the state-supported religious entities must fulfill a secular purpose.

Despite the favorable ruling for the secularist groups and their clients, Judge Vinson also wrote that he believed the founders of the United States "would have most likely found this lawsuit absurd."

"And if I were deciding this case on a blank slate, I would agree and grant the plaintiffs no relief. But, alas, that is not what we have here," wrote Vinson.

"I am aware that there is a lot of support in Pensacola to keep the cross as is, and I understand and respect that point of view. But, the law is the law."

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