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A Texas city apparently out-foxed an atheist group who threatened to sue to have a religious symbol removed from a public park.
When the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the city of Port Neches, Texas over a giant white cross displayed at Port Neches Park, the city officials took a bold step.
They agreed to sell the 20’ X 20’ plot of land in the city park where the cross rests to the First United Methodist Church for the bargain basement price of $100, according to local station 12News.
“We found a section in the local government code that allows the sale of property to a religious organization, as long as that organization owns land within the municipality and there’s an agreement to revitalize that land,” Port Neches City Attorney Lance Bradley said.
The move may avoid a threatened lawsuit from the Freedom From Religious Foundation, which argued the cross on public property violated the separation of church and state, as laid out in the United States Constitution.
Rebecca Markert, of the F.F.R.F, tells 12News they will be looking into the legality of the sale, the bidding process and whether or not signs will be notifying guests that the cross is now on private property.
But even if the group has no legal recourse, they’re still chalking it up as a win.
“We are taking this initial step as a victory,” Markert said. “They divested themselves from a religious symbol and that’s a victory for state church separation. The constitution requires no religious symbols be on public property. It’s typical that public land be sold to a private entity but not a religious entity but it is something we will be looking into.”
The sale was approved by city officials meeting in an executive session, and confirmed by both City Manager Andre Wimer and Police Chief Paul Lemoine.
“I don’t think we’d categorize it in any particular manner,” Wimer said. “We looked at a number of options and this is the direction that city council decided to proceed.”
Lemoine added that now that the small plot of land is privately owned, the cross can stay right where it is.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s threats gave rise to the White Cross Movement, which hands out small white crosses for free and to be displayed on front lawns.
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