For Immediate Release
Sarah Henry, (202) 238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Washington D.C., June 28, 2019) — The U.S. Supreme Court just announced that it will overturn the American Humanist Association’s (AHA) victory in the Pensacola cross case, but asked a lower court to rehear the case. Both the district court and court of appeals had concluded that the Florida city’s 34-foot-tall Christian cross violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Today, the Supreme Court vacated those decisions for a rehearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
“The lower courts properly ruled that a city violates our constitution’s Establishment Clause when it displays and maintains a towering standalone Christian cross in a popular city park for exclusively religious ends,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association and counsel of record on the case.
The case commenced in 2016 when the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, leading national freethought organizations, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of local residents. The complaint contended that the 34-foot-tall cross maintained and displayed by the City of Pensacola solely for annual Easter Sunrise Services represents a clear preference for the Christian faith over other beliefs and non-belief, violating the First Amendment.
The District Court agreed with the AHA and FFRF in a June 2017 decision and ordered the removal of the cross from government property. After the city appealed, Miller presented oral arguments to a three-judge panel of the historically conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, including a recent Trump administration appointee, Kevin Newsom, which unanimously upheld the decision, concluding that the government-funded, freestanding Latin cross violates the Establishment Clause.
Today, the Supreme Court reversed the rulings of the lower courts and remanded the case to a lower court to reevaluate the arguments in light of last week’s Bladensburg Cross ruling. Miller explained, “We remain confident in our legal position given the still firmly settled precedent finding religious displays maintained for exclusively religious purposes unconstitutional. The Bladensburg cross decision does not impact the decades of Supreme Court precedent holding government action motivated by a religious purpose unconstitutional.”
“It is our long held position that community parks should be just that: welcoming to every member of the community,” commented Roy Speckhardt, executive director at the American Humanist Association. “While we’re disappointed by the Supreme Court’s failure to affirm that, we are optimistic that the City of Pensacola will finally include all residents in its urban planning.”
The AHA’s Brief in Opposition to the City of Pensacola’s Petition for Certiorari can be found here.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans, including over 2,800 members in Florida. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and the Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate. With roughly 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including 1,600-plus and a chapter in Florida, the organization also educates the public about nontheism.