Last November, an East Texas town was sued over a 10-foot-tall cross in a public park, a monument that had been in place for 45 years. But a resident – with support from the Freedom From Religion Foundation – sued the city of Port Neches, complaining that the cross in a public space was an impermissible violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
Now local media reports say Port Neches has found a way out of its lawsuit woes by selling the small 20-foot-by-20-foot parcel of land where the cross sits. The local First United Methodist Church purchased the land for $100, and the city effectively wiped its hands of the cross – and controversy.
Problem solved? Not so fast says Rebecca Markert. She is the senior staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She says the course of action is an improvement, but not entirely satisfying.
“We are very happy that the city recognized that the constitutionality of the cross was in question, and that they could not have a religious symbol on their property,” she says. “We’re happy that they took steps to divest themselves of the religious symbol.”
But, Markert says, her organization is questioning the method of the land sale.
“We are concerned that it didn’t go through an open bidding process, and that they sold the land for $100 – which seems to be pretty cheap,” she says.
Markert says they’re still investigating whether the sale of the land is constitutional. If the purpose of the sale was to “maintain the status quo” and save the cross, she says, that wouldn’t be acceptable.
“If the sale is all kosher, so to speak, then we would look to make sure that the city’s also taking steps –because they didn’t sell off the entire park, they only sold a portion of that park – that they’re taking steps to delineate the public property from the private property.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
Post prepared by Alexandra Hart.