CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – A prominent atheist group is demanding that a fire department in Georgia take down a cross that has stood outside of one of their fire stations for more than a decade.
Catoosa County Fire Department serves a district in far northwestern Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Outside of the department’s Fire Station 3 in Graysville stands a large cross that is visible from a nearby highway. Imagery from Google Earth shows that the cross has stood there for more than 10 years.
However, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is now demanding that the cross be taken down. In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Wisconsin-based atheist group said they sent a letter to the district’s fire chief, explaining why they believe the cross is “blatantly unconstitutional.”
“The religious significance of the Latin cross is unambiguous and indisputable,” FFRF stated. “An overwhelming majority of federal courts agree that the Latin cross universally represents the Christian religion, and only the Christian religion. And a majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.”
“The cross displayed at Fire Station 3 unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” it added. “It also conveys the message to the 30 percent of Americans who are not Christian, including the 23 percent who are not religious, that they aren’t ‘favored members of the political community,’ to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.”
A local resident reportedly notified the FFRF of the cross, also advising that it includes a Christian message about being saved.
“An essential service such as the fire department should not be seen as playing religious favorites,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor remarked. “Such a display of bias fuels public alienation from our government.”
This is not the first time the Wisconsin-based atheist group has taken issue with religious displays at fire stations. Fire departments in New York, South Carolina, Washington and Texas have all received similar complaints from the FFRF.
“The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and non-believing residents of Georgia into political outsiders,” wrote FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert in the letter FFRF sent to the Catoosa County Fire Department. “We ask you to remove the cross from Fire Station 3 immediately and to ensure no religious iconography or messages are displayed on public property in the future.”
As previously reported, FFRF has actively sought to remove similar crosses from government properties nationwide. Earlier this year in Santa Clara, California, officials removed a 14-foot cross from a public park after FFRF filed a lawsuit against the city. In Pensacola, Florida, a federal judge ruled last month that a 25-foot cross display in a public park was unconstitutional.
Elected officials in other cities have pushed back against the FFRF’s demands. As previously reported, city officials in Longwood, Florida said in March that they had no intention of removing a cross memorial from their city hall after receiving a complaint from the FFRF. Similarly, officials in Neosho, Missouri, recently refused the atheist group’s request to remove a cross display from a public park.