Updated July 31, 2013
Church groups that wanted to display a number of six foot tall plastic crosses on a popular stretch of Riverside drive in Evansville will not be able to obtain a permit. A federal judge ruled today that city officials may not allow religious displays on public property.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s ruling was issued just five weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed suit on behalf of two Vanderburgh County residents.
The ruling states the display conveys an endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause prohibits the state from endorsing a specific religion or any religion at all.
“We are extremely happy that the Court has affirmed that the First Amendment does not allow for a display of this nature,” stated ACLU of Indiana staff attorney Gavin Rose in a prepared statement. “The City cannot dissociate itself from a religious display in the public right-of-way simply because it would be erected at the urging of a private party.”
Churches, though, are free to display emblems of their faith on their own property.
Original Story July 19, 2013
A federal judge in Indianapolis is deciding whether a group of churches will be allowed to display crosses in downtown Evansville.
Judge Sarah Evans-Barker heard arguments from attorneys on both sides of the issue Thursday. This after the ACLU of Indiana filed suit to stop Westside Christian Church and others from displaying crosses painted by bible schools kids in Evansville’s popular Riverfront area.
The ACLU’s Gavin Rose says the display of up to 31 crosses amounts to a “city endorsement” of religion and violates the separation of church and state.
“What we’re talking about here is a very prominent display that everyone is going to associate with the city,” he says.
However, attorney Keith Vonderahe, who represents the city of Evansville, says the crosses represent private speech.
“There have been all type of vigils, parades, religious connotations, secular, for the history of the Riverfront, it is the one place where public speech is also open, welcome and free to all,” he says.
Judge Barker says she will come up with a ruling well before Aug. 4 when the display is scheduled to go up.