Saying “our hands are tied” by legal precedent, a federal appeals court Friday upheld a ruling that requires the removal of a decades-old Latin cross from a Pensacola park. The city of Pensacola appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower-court judge ruled that the cross in Bayview Park violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
In a main opinion and two concurring opinions Friday, members of a three-judge panel of the appeals court lamented the ruling but said they were bound by precedent from a 1983 Georgia case.
“The city contends … that none of the plaintiffs here has suffered sufficient injury to have standing to sue and … that, in any event, the Bayview Park cross does not violate the Establishment Clause under current Supreme Court precedent,” said the main opinion shared by judges Kevin Newsom, Frank Hull and Charles Ashley Royal. “If we were writing on a clean slate, we might well agree — on both counts. But we are not — and so we cannot.”
Four plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the cross, saying its presence on public property was unconstitutional. Friday’s ruling said the question in the case was whether the city’s maintenance of the cross in the park was a prohibited “establishment of religion.”
In a 53-page concurring opinion Friday, Royal said the 1983 Georgia case that established precedent needs to be reversed. “The Bayview cross is embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community,” Royal wrote. “It is rooted in Pensacola’s history. If the cross is a problem, it is only a local problem, not a constitutional problem.”
The city of Pensacola will appeal to the ruling, which could wind up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
source: The News Service of Florida