Press Release

Court preserves historic Pensacola cross Memorial will remain in place while the City appeals

Media Contact

Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court today protected a cross that has stood in a Florida city park for over 75 years. Last month, the court in Kondrat’yev v. City of Pensacola ordered the cross to be removed because of its religious nature, but in today’s ruling, the court acknowledged that the Mayor and City of Pensacola should be given time to appeal. An appeal will be filed soon, and a ruling is expected in the coming months.

A wooden cross was first placed in Pensacola’s Bayview Park in 1941 by the local chapter of the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees)—a private, civic, nonprofit organization—as the United States prepared to enter World War II. The original wooden cross was replaced with the current cross by the Jaycees in 1969. For decades, the Jaycees and other groups have hosted community events at the memorial, including Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day remembrances. Today it continues to serve as a gathering place for both religious and nonreligious groups within the community and as a significant symbol of the city’s history.

“The Bayview cross has played an important role in the history of Pensacola for over 75 years,” said Ashton Hayward, mayor of Pensacola. “Our City welcomes people of all faiths and no faith at all, and we are glad that the citizens of Pensacola can continue to celebrate our remarkable history.”

Bayview Park consists of 28 acres overlooking the scenic Bayou Texar. In addition to a cross in the northeast corner of the park, there is a senior center, amphitheater, two dog parks, tennis courts, a bocce ball court, playground, multiple boat ramps and docks, walking trails, picnic areas, and a memorial to a local citizen who died in a waterskiing accident.

In May of 2016, four plaintiffs sued the city saying that the cross was offensive. Two of the plaintiffs live in Canada. One has used the cross himself for his own self-described “satanic purposes.” The fourth plaintiff lives outside Pensacola over seven miles from the cross but still says that seeing the cross would be offensive. Although a federal court recognized that the cross “is part of the rich history of Pensacola,” and that the cross “might well pass constitutional muster,” it ruled in June that the cross has a “religious purpose” and must be removed.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that religion is a fundamental part of our history and culture, and the government is welcome to acknowledge that fact,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket, which is defending the City of Pensacola. “The Constitution has never required the government to scrub every religious reference from the public square.”

Becket, which is representing the city free of charge, also successfully defended a statue of Jesus in Montana memorializing soldiers who died during World War II. Last month, the city asked the court to allow the cross to remain in place while the city appeals, and today the court granted that request. The city is represented in the trial court by J. Nixon Daniel, III, and Terrie L. Didier of Beggs & Lane.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

 

 ###

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).