A flowerbed shaped like a cross was removed from a park in Columbus, Ga. after non-Christians raised concerns and the city’s mayor determined that the cross violated the law.
“We had some complaints from other citizens not of the Christian faith,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson told Fox News.
The Windsor Park Homeowners Association was responsible for upkeep of the flowerbed and at the request of city officials they removed the two arms. Now, the cross is shaped like a rectangle – and conforms to federal law.
“They actually physically reformed the Christian cross into the rectangular flower bed,” the mayor said. But they did so only after the city told them the cross was no longer welcome in the public park.
The flowerbed had been a part of the Lake Heath Park for decades. Large stones had been positioned to form the outline of the cross.
But Mayor Tomlinson said the symbol ran afoul of a 1983 federal court ruling that she said banned Christian crosses from public land. She cited a court case involving a 50-foot lighted cross in Rabun County, Ga. That particular cross had been a part of the community for 40 years, she said – until someone complained.
“A Christian cross or a symbol of any particular faith could not permanently rest in a park,” she said “So we had to abide by the applicable law.”
According to local media accounts, a number of citizens are upset over the removal.
“The satisfactory resolution is that the cross is there,” resident George Wade told television station WTVM. He was one of many people to attend a recent city council meeting to demand the cross be restored.
“The councilmen are beginning to understand the urgency that needs to be addressed because the people are concerned about this,” he told the television station.
But that’s not going to happen.
Columbus is home to Fort Benning and the area is home to a number of military retirees, the mayor said.
“We have a lot of military retirees of the Jewish faith and other faiths wearing the uniform,” the mayor said. “We’ve had a lot of those individuals come forward talking about the fact that a lot of blood has been shed to make certain that our public institutions are open to people of all faiths, of all races, of all genders.”
Tomlinson did not dispute the notion that many of her constituents might disagree with the decision to remove the cross.
“Whenever we have a tradition that begins to fade, that’s always something that becomes very emotional for people,” she said.
She did say the city would allow Christians to hold Easter Sunrise services at the park – and the neighborhood association would be allowed to plant seasonal flowers in the bed – like Easter lilies.
“People understand the public sector aspect of having to guarantee free access so that everybody feels welcome in our public facilities – whether it be a park or a building,” she said.