Group sues Whiteville over crosses on public land
Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 8:03 pm
Whiteville (AP) — A national nonprofit for atheists and agnostics is suing the town of Whiteville over its placement of crosses on city property.
A federal lawsuit filed on Friday by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, states that the displays are an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity by the government of this small town about 50 miles east of Memphis.
According to court records, the group first wrote to Mayor James Bellar last December on behalf of a Whiteville resident who objected to a cross that had been placed atop the local water tower several years previously. When the mayor did not respond, a second letter was sent in March and a third in May. In September the group wrote again, this time threatening to sue unless the cross was removed within 30 days.
Instead, the town removed one arm of the cross as a sort of protest. It also placed two crosses in front of city hall. A third cross appeared on the public sidewalk in front of Bellar’s business. Bellar said on Tuesday that he had not yet been served with a copy of the suit but that the town plans to answer it.
Bellar said that he would have told plaintiffs of the plans if they had only asked. Asked why he did not respond to three letters that did ask what the town intended to do about the cross, Bellar said the interview was over and hung up. The suit, reported on Monday in The Jackson Sun, was filed on behalf of a Freedom From Religion Foundation member who is “non-religious” and who regularly does business in Whiteville. The complaint, filed in Jackson, seeks a declaration from the court that crosses placed on public property violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It also asks for an injunction requiring all crosses to be removed from property owned by the town of Whiteville and banning any future placement of crosses on town property.