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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has earned its reputation as a notorious gang of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers waging a wicked crusade against Christian symbols on public property.
The Wisconsin-based group is especially fond of preying on small town America where many communities cannot afford to fight back against their baseless legal threats.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation may be having second thoughts about their latest targets — because the folks in Camden County, Missouri plan to fight back.
Last November, the FFRF sent a letter to the county clerk demanding that a painting depicting the “Ground Zero Cross” be removed from a hallway.
Rescue workers discovered two steel beams in the rubble of the twin towers that resembled a 17-foot-tall cross. The image brought hope and comfort to many Americans during those terrible days.
But the FFRF said Camden County’s September 11th memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Attorney Colin McNamara said the “cross is draped in cloth, similar to crosses displayed at Easter and “a reasonable observer would view the displays in your office as an endorsement of religion, and they are accordingly unconstitutional.”
Regardless, local residents packed into the courthouse on Tuesday to demand their elected leaders stand up to the out-of-town bullies.
“Even if a federal judge should say we are wrong, even if a federal judge (should say) that we should remove it, the sheriff of this county and the people of this county should ensure that that painting is never removed no matter what a judge tells us,” local resident Ike Skelton told county commissioners.
A second painting that raised the ire of the out-of-town atheists had already been relocated to a private area of the courthouse. That painting included a New Testament Bible verse, “Greater love hath no man than this, that one would lay their life down for another.”
Many residents in the standing-room-only crowd offered to help pay the county’s legal bills in the event of a lawsuit.
“They want to warn you that it’s going to cost money and they hope that you bow,” Stacy Shore said in remarks reported by the Lake Expo newspaper. “Don’t operate from a place of fear. We’re counting on you. If God be for you, who can be against you?”
But I sincerely doubt the good people of Camden County are going to have to spend a single penny defending their beautiful memorial.
In 2014 a federal appeals court ruled that the inclusion of the actual 9/11 Memorial cross does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
The court stated in American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, that the 9/11 Memorial stands “as a symbol of hope and healing for all persons.”
First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s top law firms handling religious liberty cases, sent a letter to county leaders urging them to ignore the rantings of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“Clearly, if the 9/11 Memorial itself is permissible under the Constitution, then a painting depicting that same Memorial is certainly also permissible,” attorney Michael Berry wrote in the letter.
Berry also noted that county employees were also permitted to display the second painting, the one adorned patriotic themes and a Bible verse.
“Although the courthouse is a government building and workplace, government employers nevertheless cannot engage in religious discrimination by permitting certain employee viewpoints to be expressed but not other purely because the disfavored viewpoints contain religious elements,” Berry pointed out.
It appears the battle lines have been drawn and First Liberty Institute tells me they are prepared to assist commissioners if they choose to fight.
As near as I can tell the folks who live in Camden County, Missouri are hard-working, church-going patriots. They love God and their love their country. They were not looking for a fight, but the fight came to their front door. And they’re loaded for bear.