Federal Judge Orders the Removal Of a 75-Year-Old Cross in Florida

Bryan Michalek | June 20, 2017
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The Bayview Park Cross has stood in Pensacola, Fla., for around 75 years after being originally erected in 1941. Now, due to the recent declaration of a federal judge, the park has 30 days to remove it.

In a court case over the constitutionality of the structure, a federal judge ruled the cross unconstitutional because of its violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from establishing or favoring one religion over another.

The case comes from a 2016 lawsuit, filed by Amanda Kondrat’Yev, along with three other plaintiffs, according to weartv. The decision came from Judge Roger Vinson in a 23-page court order on June 14.

Originally, the National Youth Administration erected a wooden cross in the corner of the park for the first annual Easter Sunrise Service in 1941. The cross was later replaced by a concrete structure in 1969, which is maintained by the city at an annual average cost of $233 a year.

In the ruling, Vinson states that even though the cost of maintaining the cross is relatively nothing, and many Pensacola residents see no issue with it, the few that take offense constitute enough reason to bring the structure down. In deciding whether the structure should be removed, Vinson used the Lemon Test, a three pronged evaluation that checks for violations of the establishment clause.

Vinson had some words about the test that displayed his own issues with the ruling. He said in his order, “Lemon is routinely criticized, but it is still the law of the land and I am not free to ignore it.” The order also cites several legal scholars who have criticized the current state of federal case law on the constitution’s establishment clause.

As case closed, the judge reluctantly gave the park 30 days to remove the cross but allowed for a temporary cross to be used during religious ceremonies. He gave his condolences for those hoping for a different ruling saying “I am aware that there is a lot of support in Pensacola to keep the cross as is, and I understand and respect that point of view,” in his ruling.

In addition to the order, Vinson awarded $1 in damages to the plaintiffs, two of whom have moved to Canada, since the case began.

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