ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Wisconsin-based organization wants the City of Elizabethton to take down the three iconic crosses on Lynn Mountain that overlook the city.
The crosses have been there for decades.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation says it wants the crosses removed because they are located on city property and claims that is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.First Amendment with the Establishment Clause in bold
“They are crosses up there by themselves. They seem to have a pretty obviously Christian message,” said Karen Heineman, a legal fellow for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
According to the foundation, it reached out to the city in 2018 after receiving a complaint from a resident.
The foundation said the city received the complaint and was told the city would respond, but that never happened. The foundation has since renewed its call for the removal of the crosses.
Heineman says the land on top of Lynn Mountain is owned by the city, and several city leaders say the same.
Heineman cited the 2019 Supreme Court case The American Legion v. The American Humanist Association, in which the court ruled that display of a religious symbol on government property does not violate the establishment clause if it has taken on a secular meaning.
The foundation does not believe this to be the case in Elizabethton.
“They have no other obvious meaning or other messages with them, and it sends I think a pretty obvious message of endorsement of Christianity,” Heineman said.
Elizabethton resident David Roarke sees the crosses nearly every day and he doesn’t want to them go.
“I hope they don’t have to do that,” Roark said. “My faith is I believe in it, and I don’t see anything wrong with it myself.”
On the foundation’s website, an article about the Lynn Mountain crosses uses a picture of a second set of crosses on the other side of town. Those crosses are believed to be on private property and not in violation of any constitutional clause.
The article’s complaint about the Lynn Mountain crosses includes mention of a banner saying “Jesus is Lord,” but this banner only appears on the other set of crosses.
When asked about the misidentification of the Lynn Mountain crosses, Heineman was surprised and said online research about Lynn Mountain’s crosses had pointed her to a video of the other crosses.
Heineman says no one from the foundation has ever been to Elizabethton.
If the crosses are removed, Roarke doesn’t think it will be a popular move among residents.
“I know some people don’t believe in it, but a lot of us do,” Roark said.
Elizabethton City Attorney Roger Day said any action by the city in response to the foundation’s request must be taken by the City Council.
City leaders declined to speak on camera due to concerns of potential litigation.