ACLU: Upcoming Religious Display 'Crosses the Line'

Published 06/25 2013 06:43PM

Updated 06/25 2013 08:55PM

The Indiana chapter of the ACLU files suit against the City of Evansville, claiming the city is blatantly breaching the First Amendment by allowing a religious display on public property near the riverfront. 

The lawsuit filed Tuesday comes nearly a week after the Board of Public Works approved a westside church's request last week.

The church wants to display thirty different crosses between Locust and Court Street.

The ACLU believes the display would violate a part of the Establishment Clause of First Amendment because the display will be on public property. The lawsuit claims the city's approval of the display will establish or promote a certain religion.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Evansville residents, Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano.

Tarsitano says she feels the city's approval of the display is wrong, regardless of religion.

"The Christian cross is - in the western world - probably the most recognized and the most important symbol of a great religion," Tarsitano said. "That crosses the line."

That line seaparates public and private property. The display would be on public property that is highly visible and widely used. The crosses as part of the display will be painted by kids attending a vacation bible school at Westside Christian Church. The display, according to lawyers representing the church, is part of an inter-denominational gathering of several churches called 2013 Cross the River.

"Nobody is taking these kid's right or ability to paint these crosses or do anything they want just not on public property."

The lawsuit claims it violates the establishment clause of the first amendment which prohibits the promotion of a particular religion. Tarsitano says the city should have known better.

"The Westside Christian Church, they simply asked the question," Tarsitano said. "It's the governmwent people and really [City Attorney] Ted Ziemer on the line for this. He should have said no."

Ted Ziemer would not provide comment on pending litigation. Although the church was not named in the lawsuit, Lawyers representing the church released a statement.

We have provided part of that statement.

"2013 Cross the River is a private display sponsored by private organizations and is not
being sponsored or endorsed by the City of Evansville. The display will be made on
public property that has been traditionally open to public expression and permission for use of public property was obtained through the same application process and upon the
same terms as are required of other private groups. The United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled that such displays do not violate the Establishment Clause of the
United states Constitution because they constitute private expression in a public forum and are to be afforded protection under the freedom of speech provisions of the First Amendment of the Constitution."

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