Missouri town to move giant cross off public land after atheist group's complaint

by Samuel Smith, Christian Post Contributor |
A blue-lit cross stands erect as part of a Christmas light display at Finley River Park in Ozark, Missouri in December 2018. | PHOTO: FACEBOOK/RAGAN THOMPSON-SARTIN

A large cross contested by atheists will be moved off public land following complaints over a Missouri town's Christmas lights display.

Under pressure from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, city officials in Ozark, Missouri, announced last week that the cross that was on display at the Finley River Park will be moved to private land located at the south end of the park to avoid a lawsuit from the atheist group.

The land that the cross is being moved to is owned by the Christian County A&M Society and is regularly used by the Finley River Saddle Club Arena.

"The city of Ozark has been working diligently with our partners to find the best resolution regarding the cross in the Finley River Park," a statement posted to the town's Facebook page reads. "In striving to balance the court of law with the court of public opinion, we have identified a solution that will relocate the cross from its current location on city-owned property to a privately owned parcel of property."

According to the city, the proposed new location is "not on property owned or leased by the city of Ozark" in any way.

"There is no specific timeline for this relocation as the details regarding implementation of this plan are still being determined," the statement reads.

FFRF, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state and regularly pressures municipal governments and school districts, sent a letter to the town in November arguing that including the cross (which at night is lit up in blue) in the town's holiday lights display on public property was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In her letter, FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert cited federal court decisions against the display of religious symbols on public property. Such rulings include the 1985 Seventh Circuit ruling in ACLU v. The city of St. Charles, Illinois.

Initially, the city responded on Dec. 11 in a statement agreeing with FFRF's assertion that the cross was a violation of the First Amendment and suggested that leaving the cross on public property would "result in a lawsuit that we will not win."

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