- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A federal court on Wednesday allowed the World War II-era Bayview Cross to remain standing at a public park in Pensacola, Florida, reversing its previous decision in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of another Christian symbol, the Bladensburg Cross.

In its decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in American Legion v. American Humanist Association adopted “a strong presumption of constitutionality” for “established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices.”

The Eleventh Circuit’s previous decision affirming the removal of the cross was based on two earlier Supreme Court decisions, ACLU of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce (1983), and Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

“We won’t bury the lede,” said the 42-page opinion. “Having reconsidered this case in light of American Legion, we conclude (1) that the Supreme Court’s decision abrogates Rabun’s analysis and holding with respect to the merits of the Establishment Clause claim there and (2) that when American Legion (rather than Rabun) is applied, Pensacola’s maintenance of the Bayview Park cross does not violate the First Amendment.”

Becket, the religious-freedom legal foundation that represented Pensacola, said the 34-foot-tall cross built in Bayview Park in 1941 had become “a significant symbol for the Pensacola community.”

“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,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover C. Robinson IV in a statement. “Today the citizens of Pensacola will celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross.”

Monica Miller, American Humanist Association legal director, said the court “dealt a devastating blow to the Establishment Clause in the Eleventh Circuit,” adding, “We are currently exploring all of our options.”

The organization, which challenged the Bayview Cross in a 2016 lawsuit, said the symbol served “solely as the centerpiece of annual Easter Sunrise Christian worship services.”

“It is troubling to see the court attack the principle of church-state separation that was held dear by our Founders,” said Roy Speckhardt, AHA executive director. “Today’s decision is part of the religious right’s ongoing crusade to privilege Christianity at the expense of true religious freedom for all.”

Becket argued that three of the four plaintiffs did not live in Pensacola and called the Bayview Cross “one of over 170 displays in Pensacola parks memorializing the City’s diverse history and culture.”

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

In June, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 32-foot World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, sending the Bayview Cross case back to the Eleventh Circuit on remand.

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