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An atheist group is demanding an Illinois city remove a well-known cross from a mural, saying it is “inappropriate” and “unconstitutional” for such a symbol to be on government land.
The mural in Effingham, Ill., was painted on an overpass near Effingham High School and shows a United States flag alongside a white cross – an obvious reference to the Cross at the Crossroads, a 198-foot white cross that rests on private land in Effingham and is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. It even has a visitor center. The tall cross was completed in 2001 and dedicated on Sept. 16 that year, five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Although the cross itself resides on private land, the mural is on government property. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Effingham’s mayor in December demanding its removal. FFRF calls itself an organization of “atheists, agnostics and skeptics of any pedigree” that promotes the complete separation of church and state.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government-owned mural to prominently feature a religious display, such as a Latin cross,” the letter says. “It is especially inappropriate where the display is placed in a location where it will predominantly be viewed by public school children and staff moving from one part of their campus to another.”
Effingham City Administrator Steve Miller told the Effingham Daily News that no decision has been made.
“We have been researching the legal aspect of the matter and want to consult with the City Council before we make any statements,” Miller said. “We are reviewing the matter internally.”
A Change.org petition urging the city to leave the mural alone has gained more than 23,000 signatures. The cross on the mural “represents the people of Effingham and should be left up to show our pride of the city,” the petition says.
On Saturday, citizens gathered in front of Effingham City Hall to show their support for the mural. They carried American and Christian flags, the Daily News reported.
“The cross on the mural is not forcing religion on anyone,” said Dale Spindler, 59, of Watson. “It’s part of our community.”
Meanwhile, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the city asserting that the mural is protected by Supreme Court precedent, the Washington Examiner reported. First Liberty pointed to a 2019 decision in which the high court ruled a World War I memorial cross on government land does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
“The Cross at the Crossroads’ two decades of prominence as part of Effingham surely has established it as just such a symbol and ‘part of the community,’” the letter from First Liberty reads.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com
Photo courtesy: Jarrett Jones/Change.org
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.