ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Members of a Tri-Cities community are speaking out against an effort to get rid of an iconic sight.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced on Thursday that they believe the three crosses in Elizabethton atop Lynn Mountain have to go.
City residents told News Channel 11 that the crosses have stood in that spot since the 1950s, but following a complaint from a resident in 2018, the foundation firmly states they shouldn’t be there since they’re on government property.
People took to the old Chamber of Commerce property to protest the possible removal Friday afternoon.
“Elizabethton is known for the monument, it’s known for the covered bridge, but I believe we’re also known for those three crosses,” said Nathan Jennings, the Pastor at First Freewill Baptist Church which sits within a mile from the crosses. He said it’s a sight he looks forward to seeing every time he exits the church.
“I can’t imagine looking up there and those crosses being gone. It literally breaks my heart to think that those crosses won’t be there,” said Jennings.
Residents News Channel 11 spoke with said they wonder why The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group based out of Wisconsin, is so pressed to remove what’s stood for over 70 years.
They believe the solution to this problem is simple. “If you don’t want to be involved in the crosses or they don’t do anything to help you, then don’t look at them,” said Diane Cupp.
It’s a sentiment shared by fellow resident Michael Byrd, the organizer of Friday’s protest. “If you’re driving by or walking, you don’t even look up there, you don’t even see them. They’re bothering no one,” said Byrd.
Friday’s protest drew even more attention to the issue. People driving by said they weren’t even aware someone wanted to take them down.
“They told me that some people from Wisconsin were going to take down our crosses, and I’m absolutely appalled by it,” said Harrison Lane.
Residents said removing them would go against their First Amendment Right, but Stewart Harris, an expert in constitutional law and professor at Lincoln Memorial University in Knoxville, said this is a tricky situation and it’s all about context.
Harris said what complicates this case is the fact that the crosses are on city land.
“If you want to erect a cross on your front lawn or in front of your church or at your place of business, do it. Feel free, that’s what makes America great. However, you can’t take public land and public money from other people and spend it on your religion,” said Harris.
“It is city property, but if the city had a problem with the crosses being there, they would’ve taken them down years ago. The city doesn’t have a problem with them, they’ve never been mentioned until today,” said Byrd.
Byrd said he will continue to protest the removal throughout the weekend.
The city has still yet to return public comment on the matter.