Leading evangelist Franklin Graham has taken to Facebook to speak out against an atheist organization that is threatening to file a lawsuit against a Kentucky town if it fails to remove a cross from atop a community water tower, which is located on the campus of a private Christian university.
On Sept. 29, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest atheist organization, sent an email to the mayor of Wilmore, Harold Rainwater, demanding that the town remove the Christian cross placed atop the water tower located on the campus of Asbury University, explaining that the cross creates the perception that the town officially endorses Christianity over other religions or no religion.
Although the water tower was originally built by the school, it is now owned and operated by the town and also has the town's name written across the side of the structure. Additionally, pictures of the water tower and the cross are posted to the town's official website.
FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert claimed in the email to Rainwater that it is unconstitutional for the town of 6,000 residents to "display a patently religious symbol such as a Christian cross on public property."
Graham, who is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, frequently takes to Facebook to issue his opinions on current events. Last Saturday, Graham bashed the Madison-based organization for trying to assert its own political will on the people of Wilmore.
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation is at it again," Graham wrote. "Reaching in from another state, they're trying to intimidate the city of Wilmore, Kentucky, into taking down a cross that has stood on top of their water tower for years."
Rainwater, who has served as Wilmore's mayor for nearly 40 years, does not plan to give in easily, even if faced with the threat of a costly legal battle.
"There's a groundswell of support to keep [the cross] and I'm certainly going to fight to keep it with everything I've got. I think it's symbolic of our town," Rainwater told Central Kentucky News. "I 100-percent support keeping it there. We won't take it down unless we're forced to take it down."
Although Rainwater and town residents seem determined to keep their cross, historical court precedents don't lay in their favor. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that FFRF was successful in a similar lawsuit against a Tennessee town that had a cross on top of its water tower. The case settled for $20,000 with the town having to pay the organization's legal fees.
In the case of Whiteville, Tennessee, the town received a letter from FFRF before a lawsuit was filed. However, Rainwater has not received a letter, just the one email.
"I'm not going to reply to an email," Rainwater told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I'm not going to respond to a leftist, liberal foundation that wants to tell me in Wilmore what is appropriate."
Rainwater explained that there are some differences between Wilmore's cross and the Whiteview cross.
He pointed out that when Wilmore took ownership of the cross from the university 45 years ago, the university stipulated in the agreement that the cross needed to stay. Additionally, the university still maintains the cross and pays for the electricity to keep the cross lit at night.
"The contract said the cross stayed on the tower as part of the deal. Whether that's legal and whether that can stand up to the pressure of folks who don't want crosses and don't want the Ten Commandments, we'll see," Rainwater said. "… When [the cross] was put there, Wilmore was called 'the town under the cross.' I think 'the town under the cross' is symbolic of Wilmore."
In his Facebook post, Graham was supportive of Rainwater for not folding under the pressure of FFRF, even though the town could be faced with a multi-thousand-dollar lawsuit.
"Way to go mayor Rainwater! These anti-god activists are trying to get their way against the will of the people," Graham stated. "Let's pray that they get nowhere!"
Recently, FFRF celebrated the removal of a granite Ten Commandments monument from Oklahoma's capitol grounds. Graham took to Facebook last Friday to compare the removal of the monument to the Islamic State's desecration of ancient Christian history.
"We have been appalled at news reports of ISIS and the Islamic State tearing down all symbols of Christianity in the Middle East; but think about it — we're doing it to ourselves here in the U.S.," Graham wrote. "Atheists, activists, and anti-God groups like the ACLU, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Military Freedom of Religion Foundation are on a quest to erase or tear down anything associated with the Name of Jesus Christ."