“The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons, and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional.”

PENSACOLA — A 34-foot cross displayed in a public park was ruled unconstitutional, according to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Attorneys for the American Humanist Association and the city of Pensacola presented their arguments to Judge Roger Vinson on June 14 at the Winston E. Arnow Federal Building in Pensacola.

AHA’s Monica Miller argued that the cross being displayed and maintained by taxpayer money was an overt endorsement of Christianity above other religions, and is thus unconstitutional.

According to court documents, the Bayview Cross was ruled in violation of the Establishment Clause and must be removed within 30 days. The city is also ordered to pay damages to plaintiffs in the amount of $1.

In 1941, a wooden cross structure was erected in the eastern corner of the park to be dedicated at the inaugural Easter Sunrise Service, according to court documents. In 1969, the Pensacola Jaycees replaced the wood structure with a concrete one, which has been maintained by the city ever since. In the last eight years, the city has spent an average of $233 per year out of the city's maintenance budget to keep it clean, painted and illuminated at night. 

“We are pleased that the Court struck down this Cross as violative of the First Amendment,” said Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center based in Washington, D.C. “The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons, and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional.”

Nixon Daniel, an attorney with the Beggs and Lane law firm representing the city, argued that the cross was more than just a religious symbol, noting it has been used to observe Veterans Day and Memorial Day. He also noted that the current structure has been in place for more than 40 years without objection.

After filing for summary judgment in April, arguments were presented last week and the ruling was announced Monday.