AG Steve Marshall leads fight to keep cross at Pensacola park

Pensacola cross
Pensacola cross

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Tuesday led a coalition of 14 state attorneys general in filing a friend of the court brief supporting the City of Pensacola, Florida’s, right to keep a historic cross on display in a public park.

Marshall’s filing was in response to the well-known Bayview Cross in a Pensacola public park that was ordered to be taken down this summer following a controversial ruling where a federal judge decided in favor of a group of people who sued the city who claimed the cross is offensive.

In June, federal judge Roger Vinson wrote a 23-page order explaining why he, reluctantly, ruled for the cross to be removed.

“After about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property,” Vinson wrote in his ruling. “I am aware that there is a lot of support in Pensacola to keep the cross as is, and I understand and respect that point of view. But, the law is the law.”

He added, “Count me among those who hope the Supreme Court will one day revisit and reconsider its Establishment Clause jurisprudence, but my duty is to enforce the law as it now stands.”

The City of Pensacola has since appealed the decision. Marshall’s brief was filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the appeal.

“The large cross in Pensacola’s Bayview Park is a local landmark dating back more than seven decades,” said Marshall. “The cross is woven into the fabric of Pensacola’s history and its presence in a public park does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion, as opponents have claimed. To continue down the road of the lower court’s reasoning would open the door to challenges of religious symbols on thousands of monuments and memorials on public property across the country.”

The 34-foot-tall white concrete cross has stood in the popular Bayview park since 1969, The city spends roughly $233 a year, which comes out to about 0.03 percent of the city’s annual maintenance budget to keep it cleaned, painted, and illuminated at night.

On Wednesday, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner explaining, the cross has “become a community gathering place, an integral part of my town’s fabric, a symbol to our local citizens — religious and non-religious — of our proud history of coming together during hard times.”

According to a press release, Marshall’s brief in the case asserts that the lower federal court ruling against the display of the cross ignores legal precedent protecting the display of historical monuments, including religious symbols, on public property.

“States, counties, and municipalities have historically included, or allowed private parties to include, religious texts and symbols on monuments and other displays on public property. The amici States have an interest in maintaining that practice, consistent with a proper understanding of the Establishment Clause,” the brief stated.

Alabama was joined by Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah in filing the brief.