A small group of Christians in San Francisco, California, have engaged in a legal battle over the removal of a 28-foot cross that was erected more than five decades ago.
On Tuesday, a bench trial began in a U.S. district court to decide whether the city of Albany Hill could invoke eminent domain to obtain the Lions Club's easement, which has been used to access the cross since it was first erected in 1970 on Albany Hill overlooking California's East Bay.
According to CBN News, the 28-foot metal-and-plexiglass cross has been lit up for Easter and Christmas, making it a staple for local Christians.
Doren Osborn told the Washington Times that the cross had been placed at that location since 1970, when her father and another community leader sold 1.1 acres of land to the city. Later, as a part of the deal made in 1973, The Lions Club was granted an easement.
In 2015, however, East Bay Atheists challenged the cross' constitutionality. Two years later, Albany's then-mayor Peggy McQuaid denounced the Lions Club for lighting up the cross for a 9/11 anniversary.
"I want to reiterate that neither the City Council nor the City of Albany endorses in any way the lighting of the cross for any occasion, religious or nationalistic, or supports its continued presence on public property," McQuaid said in a 2017 statement.
In 2018, a judge ruled against the cross, arguing that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the city was ordered to either sell the small plot of ground where the cross was perched to a private party or obtain the easement through eminent domain and remove the cross altogether.
In a unanimous vote last year, the city council voted to pass a resolution to secure the easement rather than accepting the Lions Club's offer to buy the plot. A district judge later approved the city's request for prejudgment possession of the cross contingent on the outcome of the Lions Club's lawsuit over the eminent-domain action.
The cross was quietly removed from the property on June 8 and placed in storage.
Albany Mayor Aaron Tiedemann argued that the cross' removal was more "consistent with their values."
"The city has actually put its money where its mouth is, and our city looks a little bit more accepting now in a way that we think is consistent with our values," Tiedemann told the East Bay Times. "For the small local group of people that really want to see the cross stay, when you've had such privilege for so long, losing it feels like being oppressed. That's going to be an adjustment for folks, but I think we will all get used to it, and I think it's a real benefit," he said.
In an interview with the Washington Times, Lions Club President Kevin Pope argued that it was apparent that the city leaders do not want any Christian-based monuments.
"The City Council seem to hate what it represents, and rather than take an amount of money for the land and sell it to the Lions Club, they've decided to spend what we think is probably close to $1 million to resolve this issue, instead of doing the easy thing," Pope said. "That's how much they hate it."
Pope noted that the club is appealing the decision, hoping to get the city to return the easement to them since they are willing to buy it.
"I think they just gave the city of Albany a black eye," Pope said. "There's a lot of people who love it being up there — a lot of people go up there and pray and have church services. It's sacred ground to us, and taking it down shows their intolerance toward Christian values."
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/kckate16, this is a stock image.
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.