A group led by former state senator Greg Evers has offered to lease the Bayview Cross from the City of Pensacola in an effort to prevent its court-ordered removal.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled last week that the placement of the cross at the city-owned Bayview Park was unconstitutional and gave city officials 30 days to remove it. A group of Pensacola residents had sued the city in 2015, represented by the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“After about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property,” Vinson wrote in the ruling.
The decision on what to do next — comply with the judge’s order, appeal to a higher court, or explore the lease, sale, or relocation of the cross — rests with Mayor Ashton Hayward. Several religious liberty groups have offered to take the city’s case to appellate court free of charge, and now, at least one group has formally offered to lease the cross from the city.
Evers’ The Historical Preservation Society, Inc. has offered to pay the city $250 per year to lease the cross, amphitheater, and a four-foot area surrounding them for 99 years, with an option for two additional 99-year terms. State records show that Evers formed the company Friday, the same day the proposed lease was sent to Hayward.
“Our company has a very strong desire to protect and preserve our City’s historical monuments, fixtures and history so that our heritage can be learned about and enjoyed for generations to come, and we firmly believe that this arrangement will be in furtherance of that purpose,” Evers wrote to Hayward.
It’s unclear, though, whether Evers’ proposed solution would satisfy the terms of Vinson’s ruling or the groups which oppose the cross’ placement in Bayview Park.
“FFRF and AHA do not consider this an acceptable solution,” said FFRF staff attorney Madeline Ziegler. “There are many problems with this proposal, not least of which is that the City of Pensacola would still own a towering religious symbol that is displayed in a public park. FFRF and AHA are committed to continuing this case until it is resolved. The City could resolve this case at once and save everyone a good deal of time and money by simply removing this unconstitutional religious symbol from public property.”
Hayward’s office said Monday that the mayor is still evaluating his options and has not made a decision about how to proceed.
Evers served 15 years in the Florida Legislature, first in the House and then the Senate, before unsuccessfully running for Congress last year, losing to eventual winner Matt Gaetz in the Republican primary. Since leaving office, Evers has joined South Palafox Group, a Pensacola-based consultancy.
Read Evers’ proposal: