Atheists pressure city to remove 91-year-old memorial cross

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An atheist group is pressuring Woonsocket, R.I., to remove a 91-year-old Latin cross located in the City of Woonsocket’s fire station parking lot.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) announced this week that they had sent a letter to Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine requesting that the city not only remove the cross, but also scrub a memorial angel and prayer — which they describe as “woefully out of date” — from the fire department’s website.

According to the group, it is illegal for the city to promote any religion.

“It is unlawful for a city government and its agencies to display patently religious symbols and messages on city property,” FFRF’s senior staff attorney, Rebecca Market, wrote in the letter to Fontaine. “The website impermissibly demonstrates a preference for religion over nonreligion. The Latin cross at the fire station demonstrates Woonsocket’s preference for Christianity over other religions and nonreligion. Such government endorsements of religion runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.”

FFRF wants the city to “immediately remove the cross from the fire station parking lot and remove the prayer and angel from the Woonsocket Fire Department website.”

According to the atheist group, their complaint to the city was spurred by a “concerned Woonsocket resident.”

The World War I memorial cross has been a staple of the city since it was erected in 1921 to honor Woonsocket veterans.

The Woonsocket Call has reported that with the city close to bankruptcy, it likely cannot afford a legal battle with the group.

Fontaine told the local paper that the city is examining options and various ways to keep the cross.

“I have no intention of removing the cross under any circumstances,” Fontaine said.

On Wednesday, Woonsocket City Council President John F. Ward defended the cross: “I think the organization is completely off base in their objections,” Ward told The Providence Journal, adding that if “they were right then we would have to rebuild the Supreme Court houses in Washington… and we would have to close the Arlington National Cemetery.”

The fire department web page continues to feature the prayer and angel.

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