The town nearest to my home, of any size, is Evansville, Indiana. An interesting lawsuit has the attention of local pundits and wannabee pundits, bantering back and forth in the comments of the local paper several times a week.
The leaders of the city recently approved a request to place 30 eight-foot-tall crosses on the city’s riverfront as part of a Vacation Bible School project by a Christian church. The crosses will be painted/decorated by young children and displayed in this public park area bordering the Ohio River.
Many cities have, for the past decade or so, featured art projects like this. I remember visiting Philadelphia several years ago when the city was filled with decorated “Phanatics”, the symbol of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Washington, D.C. had pandas at one time and Cincinnati had decorated pigs. In some cases, these works of art (I use the term “art” loosely) were auctioned off and the funds given to charity.
The crosses are due to be displayed from August 4 through August 18. Two Evansville residents, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, are suing the City of Evansville because they believe that by allowing these crosses on public space, the city has made a government endorsement of Christianity.
The local newspaper said, “The debate’s focus is whether the “Establishment Clause” in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits displays such as the crosses on public property, or instead prohibits governments such as Evansville’s from rejecting such displays.”
The lawsuit has also generated an editorial response from the newspaper as one of the two individuals suing the City is also a freelancer at the local newspaper (full disclosure: I am also a freelancer writer at that newspaper).
I am also a Christian, and I don’t hide my proverbial light under a bushel. But I have a very strong view about this. In my opinion (and that of the current law), there is a difference between peaceable assembly to promote one’s ideals at a public place, and symbols of those same ideals on public property. I have a gold cross necklace that I sometimes wear, and I’m proud to note what my religion is. My family decorates our home for Christian holidays.
But I cannot defend the use of public property to display what is clearly a religious symbol — even if that symbol happens to be the predominant faith in our area.
All of those individuals who are lobbying for these crosses would most likely head for the hills if a Wiccan organization wanted to put up 30 eight-foot symbols of the Wiccan sect on the same public property.
The thought of what someone else might do is not justification for this lawsuit, however. Every time a discussion like this ensues, some armchair historian reels off all the reasons why our founders wanted our country to be a certain way.
Religion has always been a part of our country — we were founded because of religious repression in the Old Country. I do not think our forefathers wanted to dictate how religion should be practiced, and that is why we have separation of church and state. Countries that cannot separate the two are dictatorships with a state religion.
What are we teaching our children? What is the message here?
I had to wonder after several local businesses offered private space to display the crosses.
Those who criticize my religion — or frankly, any religion — often get caught up in these types of public issues.
I can’t speak for Jesus, but I am always wondering about that old saying, “What would Jesus do?” I cannot imagine that he would think that the fight over this public space was worth the argument. Why not put the crosses on the church property or on other private property donated by those who share the faith, and let the actions and the artwork speak for themselves?
This piece was originally published at The Broad Side on July 10, 2013. Please link there to comment.