Ind. Churches May Purchase Property Where Cross Stands

A group of Indiana churches may look to purchase a piece of public property near a major roadway that a cross was built on as a way of keeping the cross from being taken down over church-state concerns.

The Faith Community Church of Dugger and others may raise the funds to purchase the land nearby Indiana 54 where a 26 foot tall cross with the words "Jesus Saves" currently stands.

In an interview with local media, Pastor Shawn Farris of Faith Community explained that the plan to purchase the property was being seriously considered.

"That's what we're thinking so far, waiting on the town to get everything together," said Farris, whose congregation erected the cross display off of Indiana 54 in 2010.

Issues surrounding the cross began earlier this month, when the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the town of Dugger threatening a lawsuit over the cross.

"Because the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting religion on public land or financing efforts to do the same, we request that the Town promptly transfer the cross to a private entity for display on private property," reads the letter.

"Please promptly transfer the cross to a private entity for display on private property, ensure that no government signs are placed adjacent to the cross, and refrain from using any taxpayer dollars to help light or otherwise maintain the cross regardless of its location."

In response to the letter, the Dugger Town Council met last week and unanimously approved moving the cross from the piece of public land.

"The town does not have enough money to fight a legal battle over that cross out there … My opinion is that we should ask them to remove it," said Town Council President Dwight Nielson, as reported by local media.

Regarding the possibility of purchasing the land to prevent moving the cross, Nielson has explained that Town Council is interested in the idea but that the town's attorneys will be consulted first. The Dugger Town Council is expected to make its decision at their next meeting, scheduled for Monday, Aug. 6 at 6:00 p.m.

If a coalition of churches did purchase the land, it would not be the first time such a transaction was performed to keep a cross on certain property. In 2001, in response to a successful suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, Congress sold a piece of public Mojave desert property to the Veterans of Foreign Wars so as to keep a cross dedicated to World War I veterans on the land.

While the Mojave cross and the transaction between Congress and the VFW went through years of legal issues, in April U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin signed an order allowing the cross for display at its original location.

Faith Community Church of Dugger, Ind., did not return comment by press time.

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