A Missouri city is defying an atheist group’s demands by keeping up a large cross in a public park – at least, for now.
The city of Ozark, Mo., initially sent out a press release Tuesday to media members saying it was removing the cross after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which says the cross on public land is unconstitutional. The cross, which is lit at night, is part of a Christmas-themed display at Finley River Park.
But shortly after the press release went out – and after citizens expressed outrage — Ozark Mayor Rick Gardner ordered that the cross remain standing.
“The controversy about the lighted Cross in the park is not over,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The cross is NOT down and will be lighted tonight. We have heard your thoughts and agree with them. We are now assessing all our options for addressing this situation. Stay tuned.”
This doesn’t mean the cross will remain up for good. It only means Gardner wants more time to consider the issue with city officials. He told the Springfield News-Leader he received hundreds of messages supporting the cross.
“Everybody wants it up,” Gardner said. “One lady is crying. This is part of Ozark. This is Christian County, for Pete’s sake.”
Ozark is the seat of Christian County, Mo.
He added, “This is a complicated constitutional issue. It’s sure not going to be solved by the peoples’ court.”
The city, he said, cannot afford to be sued.
Most people on Gardner’s Facebook page supported his position.
“I hate that this complaint is from outside sources that do not even live in Ozark,” wrote Dana Carlo Preator. “I would love for every single house and business to erect a cross in their yards in support of Ozark and the citizens who DO live there and have more rights than outsiders.”
Rebecca Markert, legal director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the cross must go.
“It doesn’t matter if 99 out of 100 people think (a cross on city land) is OK,” Markert said, according to the newspaper. “That’s not the way our system works. … We live in a country with a lot of religious diversity because our government is largely free from religion.”