As a resident of Belle Plaine, I’ve witnessed a lot of back and forth about the Christian cross that appeared in our city-owned veterans park. Since the controversy began, crosses have sprouted all over town on private property, and I salute those who are so moved. However, I’d ask those who have jumped to conclusions about whether the cross belongs on government property to please take the time to learn some of the facts before judgment.

For example, some of the media have reported that the cross is back in the park. Alternative fact. It’s not there now and won’t be unless or until our City Council passes a resolution stipulating a portion of the park as a “Limited Public Forum.” Before that happens, someone will have to figure out what a “Limited Public Forum” is in this case and how it might work under the law. Suffice it to say, this is a complicated legal issue that concerns not only the First Amendment but also such minutia as questions about liability insurance. Lawsuits may follow, with city taxpayers on the hook.

I find strange one of the complaints made by supporters of the cross, including one made in a recent letter to the editor on these pages (“Christianity wins, PC loses in Belle Plaine cross dispute,” Feb 10). The complaint is about outside meddling. The writer, like others, is concerned that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), with headquarters in Madison, Wis., has challenged the cross’ placement: “What right does it have to rule for a city in southern Minnesota?” he asks. Surely the FFRF has no right “to rule for a city,” as he says. But it does have a right to challenge what has occurred. The FFRF did so in writing. Even atheists have a right to express their minds and their reading of the Constitution.

At the council meeting, Andy Parrish, spokesman for the cross proponents, called the FFRF “an out-of-state group, driven by extremism. … [T]his cowardly hate group hides behind a perverted view of the First Amendment and uses that view to bully others.” Isn’t it ironic that sitting next to Parrish was a lawyer from Scottsdale, Ariz., flown in for this small-town council meeting by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) — at proponents’ expense — to argue in favor of the proposal before the council? The overflow pro-cross crowd at the meeting repeatedly applauded and cheered, some might say to intimidate the council. And speaking of hate groups, those interested might want to look into the ADF and what it stands for. Just google “ADF” and “hate group.”

Bullying? The controversy began when a Belle Plaine citizen simply asked the city police if the cross placed without permission on city property was legal. Since then she has been attacked through gossip and social media for simply asking a question. Parrish, the citizen spokesman, even went so far as to accuse one of Belle Plaine’s council members of contacting the FFRF. Why that would matter, I’m not sure. But according to the Belle Plaine Herald, after the council member’s denial, “Parrish … requested under the Minnesota Data Practices Act that the city review all phone and email and communications from the councilor with the FFRF.” Sound like bullying to you?

Cross proponents also refuse to compromise. When another council member suggested the Christian cross be replaced by the common Battlefield or Soldier’s Cross (boots, rifle, helmet), appropriate to any service member’s religion, the pro-cross crowd refused. Are they more interested in honoring Christianity or veterans? Is there no middle ground to be found that might avoid all the ill will and likely litigation?

Finally, the letter writer repeats something said by proponents of the Christian cross honoring veterans on our town’s property: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Can anyone prove that except for the atheists who have been there and perhaps those in the holes with them with time enough to ask? I subscribe to the notion that “no atheists in foxholes” is a better argument against foxholes than atheism. Speaking as a veteran myself, I’d rather we worry more about taking care of veterans and keeping soldiers alive than how we honor them when they’re dead.

 

Christopher Moore, of Belle Plaine is a retired teacher.