The City of Pensacola will appeal a federal court ruling ordering the city to remove a longstanding cross in Bayview Park, officials announced Friday.

Mayor Ashton Hayward has retained the services of the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has agreed to take on the city’s appeal free of charge.

“The Bayview cross has played an important role in the history of Pensacola for over 75 years,” said Hayward. “We have a rich and diverse history that is worth celebrating. The Constitution doesn’t require us to erase our history just because part of that history is religious.”

Four Pensacola residents sued the city in 2015, represented by the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled earlier this month that the placement of the cross at the city-owned Bayview Park was unconstitutional and gave city officials until July 19 to remove it.

“After about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property,” Vinson wrote in the ruling.

Following Vinson’s order, the city received multiple offers of free legal representation and at least one formal offer to lease the property surrounding the cross from the city.

Becket describes itself as a “non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths.” In 2015, Becket prevailed over the Freedom From Religion Foundation in case that involved a statue of Jesus on federally-owned land in Montana.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the government can recognize the religious aspects of our history and culture without violating the Constitution,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket. “We expect the city will win this case.”

The city on Friday filed a motion asking the court to allow the cross to remain in place while the appeal is ongoing. The American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation plan to continue on the case, FFRF staff attorney Madeline Ziegler said.


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