Court protects historic Pensacola cross Eleventh Circuit takes cue from Supreme Court, upholds historic WWII-era cross
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – A historic World War II-era cross in Pensacola, Florida, will remain standing thanks to a victory at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals today. In Kondrat’yev v. City of Pensacola, an atheist group sued the City of Pensacola to remove the monument, which has been standing since 1941. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, protecting a World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the cross is constitutional, acknowledging that that it has become “embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community” and that removing it could “strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”
The Bayview Cross is one of over 170 displays in Pensacola parks memorializing the City’s diverse history and culture. In 2016, four individuals, represented by the American Humanist Association, sued the City, demanding the cross be torn down, even though three of the individuals do not live in Pensacola and the fourth has held his own ceremonies at the cross. The trial court and an earlier decision by the Eleventh Circuit reluctantly agreed that the cross was unconstitutional under the notorious Lemon test (see video), which has often been successfully invoked by anti-religious plaintiffs to push religion out of the public square. Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court ordered the Eleventh Circuit to rethink its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in American Legion, which finally 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,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.
The 78-year-old cross was built in the City’s Bayview Park in 1941, as the U.S. prepared to enter WWII, as a place for the community to unite. Since then, Pensacola citizens have held community events such as Easter sunrise services, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day remembrances, and other voluntary gatherings at the monument, which has become a significant symbol for the Pensacola community.
“Pensacola is a 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,” said Grover C. Robinson IV, mayor of Pensacola. “We are pleased by the court’s ruling in this case, and today we celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross.”
In the June 2019 Supreme Court ruling upholding the World War I memorial cross in Maryland, Justices cited Becket’s friend-of-the-court brief multiple times. Becket has also successfully defended a statue of Jesus in Montana commemorating fallen World War II soldiers, a historic cross artifact at Ground Zero, and a Pennsylvania county seal.