Arizona Town Removes Cross From City Building After Complaint From AU

Officials in Camp Verde, Ariz., decided to remove a cross from a government building after receiving a complaint from Americans United.


The Christian religious symbol had been hanging in the town’s community center for four years. A local religious group called Bread of Life put it there because it sometimes held events at the center.


A local resident (who has remained anonymous) notified Americans United. In June, AU’s Legal Department sent a letter to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, pointing out that the display was unconstitutional and requesting that the cross be removed.


“The cross is undeniably a religious symbol – and the one located in the Community Center here is not part of a larger, secular display,” wrote Ayesha N. Khan, AU’s legal director. “The presence of the cross thus constitutes a strong endorsement by city officials of an explicitly religious message to anyone using the Community Center’s basketball court.”


Town Manager Mike Scannell agreed with AU’s legal analysis and said the religious symbol should come down. But some people in the community protested, and one member of the council, Norma Garrison, publicly criticized Scannell’s decision.


Cross defenders wrote a spate of letter to local newspapers, and 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 CampVerdeBaptistChurch, in the Camp Verde Bugle. “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 July 15, and after a brief discussion, decided that the cross would stay down.