In Pensacola, Two Sides Exchange Cross Words

February 21, 2020

Their case wasn't technically over -- but eight months ago, when the Supreme Court ruled on the Bladensburg cross, the city of Pensacola, Florida couldn't help cheering. If the justices thought removing a large Maryland cross memorial was "hostil[ity] toward religion," then it certainly boded well for Florida's Bayview version too. Turns out, they were right.

"We won't bury the lead," the 11th Circuit Court judges wrote earlier this week. "Having reconsidered this case in light of [the Supreme Court's decision in the American Legion case], we conclude that... Pensacola's maintenance of the Bayview Park cross does not violate the First Amendment." The 42-page opinion put to rest (at least for now) a long-running feud between the American Humanist Foundation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the ocean-side city.

Taking a second look at the 78-year-old cross, the judges agreed that it's "embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community" and removing it might strike some as offensive or anti-faith. Luke Goodrich, the Becket attorney representing the city, couldn't agree more. "Religious symbols aren't like graffiti that the government has to erase as soon as someone complains. The Supreme Court has rightly ruled that governments can recognize the important role of religion in our history and culture." And in a city where there are more than 170 displays focused on the city's culture and history, why let them pick on this one?

FRC's Katherine Johnson, who joined Sarah Perry on "Washington Watch" to talk about the case, agreed, "It's another big win for religious liberty. [These crosses] show the role that religion plays in the public and in people's lives and communities -- specifically in times of suffering. The predominant faith that the community really manifest itself. And that's exactly what happened in Pensacola. It was right before World War II in times of a national crisis. The community came together and put up this cross. So it's definitely reassuring to know that these symbols and these signs of faith and strength in a community and everything else is going [to] stand. And hopefully, people will stop coming after these."

The momentum for these cases involving religious displays and monuments has to be on the side of freedom. Even Justice Clarence Thomas went so far as to say that he would scrap limits from all aspects of the Establishment Clause analysis. "So it definitely seems," Katherine said hopefully, "with the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh and more of a conservative majority, that this really could be a new era for religious liberties in the courts..."