Florida City Wins Years-Long Battle Against Atheist Group To Keep Historic Cross Standing


A historic World War II-era cross targeted by atheist groups will remain standing in Pensacola, Florida, after a victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The court ruled Wednesday that the 78-year-old Bayview Cross, built as a community gathering place, is not unconstitutional and will thus be allowed to stand.

In 2016, four individuals represented by the American Humanist Association sued the city of Pensacola and demanded the cross be torn down, according to a media release from Becket, a pro-religious liberty law form that defended the cross’ continued presence.

The nonprofit group pointed out that “three of the individuals do not live in Pensacola and the fourth has held his own ceremonies at the cross.”

The trial court and the 11th Circuit originally ruled that the cross was unconstitutional under the Lemon test, which is used to assess whether a law violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits Congress — and, by extension, any government entity — from establishing or favoring one religion over another.

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The 11th Circuit was ordered to reconsider its ruling after the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, which scrapped the Lemon test in cases involving longstanding symbols.

“The Supreme Court has now made clear that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in response to the new ruling.

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Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said “the citizens of Pensacola will celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross,” according to Fox News.

The cross was built in Bayview Park in 1941 as a place for the community to unite as the U.S. entered WWII. Today, people gather for community events like Easter sunrise services and Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

“Pensacola is a historic city with a rich and diverse history. The Bayview Cross is an important part of that history as a symbol of our community’s coming together during a national crisis,” Robinson said.

American Humanist Association legal director and senior counsel Monica Miller disagreed and called the ruling a “devastating blow” to the Establishment Clause.

“It is troubling to see the court attack the principle of church-state separation that was held dear by our Founders,” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said.

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“Today’s decision is part of the religious right’s ongoing crusade to privilege Christianity at the expense of true religious freedom for all.”

First Liberty Institute general counsel Mike Berry pointed out that the Supreme Court’s ruling in American Legion v. AHA has paved the way for legal victories like the one for the Pensacola Bayview Cross.

“The Supreme Court made clear in The American Legion decision that the days of governments roaming the land to scrub all public symbols of faith are over,” Berry said.

“We’re thrilled to see our victory in that case already making an impact and protecting religious freedom across the country.”

CORRECTION, Feb. 21, 2020: The Western Journal has changed a sentence in this article explaining the Establishment Clause of the Constitution as requiring separation of church and state to its current form: “the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits Congress — and, by extension, any government entity — from establishing or favoring one religion over another.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith