‘Elizabethton is not Christian town’: Freedom From Religion group demands crosses be taken down

Published 9:57 am Friday, March 18, 2022

FROM STAFF REPORTS
A non-profit organization with 36,000 members and several chapters across the country is once again focused on Elizabethton and the crosses on Lynn Mountain.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has hundreds of members and a chapter in Tennessee according to a press release, has asked Elizabethton to remove crosses and a Christian banner from the top of the mountain.
“Our concern remains that the city of Elizabethton is maintaining an unconstitutional religious display on city property,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Elizabethton City Attorney Roger G. Day. “As you are likely aware, since our original letter of complaint, the U.S. Supreme Court has modified its analysis for Establishment Clause violations concerning ‘established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices.’” (American Legion v. American Humanist Association, 2019)
The foundation states its purposes are protecting the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism.
In the 1950s, crosses were placed on Lynn Mountain in Elizabethton by a group of boys who were challenged by their Sunday School teacher to do something unusual for Easter.
The activity reportedly “almost landed them in jail” for cutting trees and clearing the land without permission.
According to the recent release, the foundation stated that the Elizabethton Star had in a report that the crosses remain to “remind us daily of our faith.” A video of the crosses at Easter showed a banner adjacent to the crosses that read “JESUS IS LORD.”
The FFRF emphasizes that the Establishment Clause requires religious neutrality so that religious and nonreligious are treated equally. Using government property and, possibly, government funds to sponsor a Christian message does not respect this constitutional dictate.
This is not the first time that the FFRF has contacted Elizabethton about the crosses as the issue was brought to the city’s attention in 2018.
“The city’s legal counsel acknowledged at the time the state/church watchdog’s concerns in writing and indicated he would discuss the issue with city officials and respond accordingly. More than three years later and several follow-up inquiries, FFRF is still waiting,” the group said in its statement.
In American Legion, the court discussed four considerations with established monuments that justify using a different legal framework. The Elizabethton crosses do not satisfy these considerations, FFRF points out.
“They were erected on city property without permission by a group of boys challenged by their church,” FFRF said. “The crosses stand alone, except for times when an overtly Christian message accompanies them. The message of the crosses has not changed over time; the religious purpose is not obscured, rather, it is highlighted at certain times, such as Easter.
“Removing the crosses is necessary to return to the religious neutrality the city abrogated when it allowed the illegal crosses to continue to stand on government property with no purpose other than providing a prominent symbol of Christianity. Moving the crosses to private property would satisfy the obligation.”
The group also emphasized its beliefs in the statement.
“Elizabethton is not a Christian town, Tennessee is not a Christian state and the United States is not a Christian nation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s high time that this constitutional violation is corrected.”

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