Judge to Decide If Indiana City Can Allow Churches to Display Crosses on Public Land

A federal judge has heard oral arguments for and against the decision of the city of Evansville in Southwestern Indiana to allow local churches to display crosses on public land along the Ohio River, and is expected to issue a ruling before Aug. 4. American Civil Liberties Union argued the crosses would violate the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker heard arguments over the right of churches to erect 30 crosses decorated by Bible school children on public land along the Ohio River Aug. 4-18.

After two hours of oral arguments, Barker said a ruling can be expected before the two-week display is scheduled to begin on Aug. 4, according to Indystar.com.

Attorneys representing Evansville told the judge that the decision to allow crosses, each about 6 feet tall, cannot be seen as an endorsement of religious expression, as private groups were allowed to use public space.

ACLU, which is representing two local residents, argued that the crosses would violate constitutional separation of church and state. The group's attorney, Gavin Rose, said an average person would see the crosses as a public endorsement of Christianity. "We're not talking about one cross," Rose said. "We're talking about four city blocks of crosses in a public place that very much defines Evansville."

"We're all for building the crosses and painting and decorating them, just not on public property," one of the plaintiffs, Nancy Tarsitano, was quoted as saying.

Last week, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion for 10 churches located in the Evansville area and which are part of the plan to erect crosses.

"Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America and the government cannot treat people with non-religious viewpoints more favorably than people with religious viewpoints," Bryan Beauman, an ADF allied attorney involved in the case, earlier told The Christian Post.

The request to erect crosses was submitted by West Side Christian Church as part of a fundraiser for local charities dubbed "Cross the River." The other congregations involved were Dove Chapel Baptist Church, Faith Church of the Nazarene, Good Shepherd Assembly of God, Potters Wheel Ministries, St. James West United Methodist Church, The Cathedral of Evansville, and The Connection Church, of Evansville, Ind. They were joined by Maranatha Baptist Church of Newburgh, Ind. and Freedom Baptist Church of Owensboro, Ky.

The Indiana chapter of the ACLU sued in June, days after the permit was granted by the city.

Beauman also told the CP that ACLU's "misinterpretation of the First Amendment" should not be allowed to uproot this fundamental freedom. "This public property has been used numerous times for other gatherings and displays," he said. "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."