Pensacola Asks Supreme Court To Protect Cross By Combining Two Cases

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Pensacola, Florida, asked the Supreme Court Monday to combine two cases concerning historic crosses to decide whether such symbols can stand in the public square.

The Becket Fund filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of Pensacola after a federal appeals court ruled that a historic cross memorial erected over 75 years ago in a city park must be removed. The appeal asks the court to combine the case of Pensacola’s cross with that of another the court is considering concerning the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a World War I memorial in Maryland. (RELATED: County Fights Ruling Against Cross On Seal, Says It’s Historic)

Federal appeals courts in both cases ruled that the cross memorials violated the “Lemon Test,” taken from the 1971 Supreme Court opinion in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which states:

“Three … tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

The Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the Peace Cross and legally represents Pensacola in its cross case, argued the Lemon Test is “inconsistent with the historical meaning of the Constitution.” Two of the three judges who ruled previously in Pensacola’s case stated similarly the outcome of the case was “wrong,” but that they could not change it because the Lemon Test, while controversial, had not been specifically overruled.

Pensacola’s appeal asks that the court combine its case with that of the Bladensburg cross not only to decide on the constitutionality of religious symbols in the public square, but also to specifically overrule the Lemon Test.

“Religious symbols aren’t like graffiti that the government has to erase as soon as someone complains,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. “The Constitution lets the government recognize the important role of religion in our history and culture.”

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, a Republican, also argued the cross paid homage to an important aspect of the city’s history and culture and that it did not represent a threat to any other religion in the city.

“Pensacola is a diverse city that welcomes people of all faiths and none,” Hayward said. “The cross is a valuable part of our history; tearing it down would needlessly signal hostility toward religion. The city looks forward to a victory in the Supreme Court.”

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