Atheists Sue Santa Clara Over Cross in Park

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — An anti-religion group says the city of Santa Clara violates the Constitution’s separation of church and state provision by allowing a large granite cross on display in a city park.
     The group Freedom from Religion Foundation and Andrew DeFaria filed their lawsuit against Santa Clara and its City Council in Federal Court on Wednesday.
     “Mr. DeFaria does not want to have to choose to be exposed to objectionable religious endorsement by defendants, who are part of his local government and elected officials, in order to have access to public land in his city,” DeFaria and the foundation say in their complaint. “He has been placed in the position of having to choose between exposure to the offensive conduct if he wants to use the public lands as any other citizen or being excluded from the public land in order to avoid the offensive display.”
     DeFaria and the foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that advocates for atheists, agnostics and non-theists, say they first contacted the city in 2012 to let them know they believed the display violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
     At the time, the city told the foundation it would address the issue in board meetings after gathering input from the public, but to date it has failed to do so despite many and repeated inquiries from the plaintiffs, the complaint says.
     The granite cross in question was donated to the city in 1953 and was installed at Memorial Cross Park, a small park at the corner of De La Cruz Boulevard and Martin Avenue, to commemorate the site of a Catholic mission built in 1777.
     DeFaria and the foundation want the court to rule that the cross violates the separation of church and state principle and that the city cannot display the symbol on public property.
     The foundation advocates for strict enforcement of the separation of church and state, and its many lawsuits over the years have had varying degrees of success.
     It has sued numerous cities and towns over their displays of religious symbols, including the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2007. The group claimed Green Bay inappropriately displayed a nativity scene, which the city removed before the case went to trial.
     Warren, Michigan refused to remove its nativity scene, however, and the foundation filed suit in 2012 seeking permission to create a winter solstice display next to the nativity scene. A federal judge denied the foundation’s request, a decision that was upheld on appeal.
     In a similar case to the present one involving Santa Clara, the foundation sued the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the Knights of Columbus to continually host a statue of Jesus on federal land in Montana. The Knights say the statue has traditional and historical value beyond its religious symbolism and fought the foundation in court.
     In 2013, a judge found for the Knights and allowed the statue to remain.
     In an email, a Santa Clara official said the city knows about the lawsuit but had not yet been served and declined further comment.
     Foundation lawyers Rebecca Market and Madeline Ziegler did not return an email requesting comment by of press time.

%d bloggers like this: