PORT NECHES, Texas — Residents in a Texas city are pushing back after a prominent professing atheist group recently sent a letter demanding the removal of a cross monument from a public park.
The cross at issue, a 10-foot cement monument, sits in Riverfront Park in Port Neches, and has done so for the past 45 years. But the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) states that it recently received a complaint from a “concerned citizen” about the presence of the cross.
“The government’s permanent display of a Latin cross on public land is unconstitutional,” its letter to Mayor Glenn Johnson reads. “The display of this patently religious symbol on public property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause.”
The organization then demanded the removal of the cross.
“We ask you to remove the cross from Port Neches Riverfront Park immediately or direct the display [to] be moved to a more appropriate private location,” it said.
On Friday, a number of residents formed a group called “Little White Cross Mid-County Texas” out of their desire to build wooden crosses as a show of support for the park display. While the original intent was just to make a few crosses for family and neighbors, the idea quickly grew, and according to the Beaumont Enterprise, over 1,000 people have already requested a cross to place in their yard.
Some offered to donate wood, time and finances for the effort.
A Facebook group was also formed called “Port Neches Christians and Advocates for The Cross at Port Neches Park,” which organized a prayer rally at Riverfront Park on Monday. Hundreds attended.
“We stand united to fight for what our beliefs are,” organizer Sheila Ackley told local television station KDFM. “They’re our beliefs. They are our constitutional right to do so. If we don’t stand for it, it’s no more.”
“And it won’t be long and they’re going to take our churches away,” Ackley added. “It’s not going to be long and they’re not going to allow us to have our Bibles. And I was placed on this Earth by God to fight for him, and over my dead body.”
Mayor Johnson supports the display as well.
“I want to make it perfectly clear to the citizens of Port Neches specifically that this mayor and this city council will not fold, it will not bend, it will not roll over,” he told reporters. “We’re going to fight this all the way. And if it goes to court, then it goes to court. And we’ll fight it there as well.”
The city attorney is currently reviewing FFRF’s letter.