Cross Purposes: Battle Over Religious Symbol Ends Happily In Arizona Town

Government buildings belong to all of the people, Christian and non-Christian.

On Monday, "The Wall of Separation" explored a flap over a cross being displayed at a government building in Camp Verde, Ariz., a small city of about 10,000 in the central part of the state.

As Sandhya Bathija noted, the town council was due to deliberate the matter; she expressed hope that its members would make the right decision.

Today I'm happy to report that they did.

Here's a quick recap of the controversy: The cross had been hanging in the town's community center for four years. A local religious group called Bread of Life put it there. Bread of Life sometimes held events at the center and wanted to have a cross up during those times.

A local resident (who has remained anonymous) notified Americans United. We sent a letter to the city's Parks and Recreation Department, requesting that the constitutional separation of church and state be respected and that the cross be removed.

Town Manager Mike Scannell agreed with AU's legal analysis and said the cross should come down. But some people in the community got worked up over the matter, and one member of the council, Norma Garrison, publicly criticized Scannell's decision.

As is often the case with these matters, some of the debate wasn't exactly elevated. Some residents of the community wrote uninformed letters to the editor attacking the anonymous complainant and spreading bogus history.

About 70 people even marched on the town hall, demanding that the cross remain in place.

But not everyone agreed with those sentiments. A local newspaper editorialized in AU's favor, and a Baptist minister wrote a thought-provoking column pointing out that government-sponsored religion is of no value to the church.

"American theology's unique contribution to the world's understanding of Christianity was the formal recognition that the only genuine conversion is a free conversion," wrote the Rev. Brian A. LeStourgeon, pastor of Camp Verde Baptist Church. "If government formally enforced a form of Christianity, then non-believers were not truly free to hear and respond to the genuine good news of Jesus Christ. Theologically speaking, government interference corrupts the purity of the gospel."

The council met on Wednesday night. As the local media reported, it quickly became clear that Garrison was the only member of the council who took issue with Scannell's decision to remove the cross. After a brief discussion, the matter was considered closed. The cross would stay down.

We salute the council for its action. Government buildings belong to all of the people, Christian and non-Christian, and we're pleased the community's leaders had the wisdom to understand this.