California Christians Fight Back Against City Removing Cross

Christian wooden cross on a background with the sun
Mário Fernando de Barros/Getty Images, file

A California Christian club is fighting to put their cross back on display after city officials used eminent domain to remove it while citing complaints of it being “reminiscent of KKK cross-burnings” and offensive to “diverse communities.”

The Albany Lions Club had maintained their majestic 28-foot cross and lit it up for the Christmas and Easter holidays to send “the message of God’s love” and be a “comfort to the Christian community” since 1971, a press release states

In the over 50 years it stood on Albany Hill, the cross also served as a meeting place for group prayers, weddings, baby dedications, and memorial services for the community.

The structure was erected on private land owned by one of the club’s members, but that land is now part of a dispute with the city of Albany, which seized the plot last year. 

According to the civil liberties organization Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), there were “no objections” to the cross until 2016 when an “atheist group raised a complaint and convinced the Albany City Council to take up the cause of removing the cross.”

In 2017, then-Mayor Peggy McQuaid publicly denounced the club for lighting the cross on September 11:

The Albany City Council was dismayed to learn that in a departure from historical practice, the cross on Albany Hill was lit by the Albany Lions Club on Monday, September 11. Flags on city buildings and parks were flown at ½ staff on that day which is an appropriate, non-denominational civic remembrance of that terrible and tragic day. I am sure many Albany residents paused during the day for personal reflection.

I want to reiterate that the neither City Council nor the City of Albany endorses in any way the lighting of the cross for any occasion, religious or nationalistic, or supports its continued presence on public property

In January 2023, the Alameda County Superior Court demanded the cross be removed, with the ruling claiming that the Lions Club did not need the cross for its “organizational purpose.”

“Apparently, according to the Court, only a church or religious group has a right to free exercise of religion,” PJI said in its press release, arguing that the court “failed to recognize the Lions Club had a property right to display the cross, a right which the City recognized when it acquired the land.”

When the cross was officially taken down in June 2023, the mayor celebrated. 

“The city has actually put its money where its mouth is, and our city looks a little bit more accepting now in a way that we think is consistent with our values,” then-Mayor Aaron Tiedemann told the East Bay Times

Tiedemann, who now sits on the Albany City Council, referred to the Lion Club’s cross as a “privilege” that had been taken away.

“For the small local group of people that really want to see the cross stay, when you’ve had such privilege for so long, losing it feels like being oppressed,” the former mayor said. “That’s going to be an adjustment for folks, but I think we will all get used to it, and I think it’s a real benefit.”

The local publication went on to list out the complaints Tiedmann cited for removing the cross:

Tiedemann, who grew up in Albany, said people have long complained about the cross for a litany of reasons: it symbolizes a preference of one religion over others, offends some members of the city’s diverse communities, is reminiscent of KKK cross-burnings in the East Bay hills in the 1920s, and is an eyesore.

Now, the Lions Club is filing a petition to reinstate the cross with the help of PJI.

“The City’s public statements and actions have been hostile and targeted the Christian cross because [of] its religious message,” the petition reads. “The City Council lacked neutrality and attacked the cross and the Lions for its free exercise of religion and free speech.”

PJI founder and president Brad Dacus argued in the group’s statement that the First Amendment of the Constitution “protects individuals and private entities from such blatant state hostility to those wishing to express symbols of faith and hope.”

“We at PJI are committed to defending such constitutionally protected expression.”

In an interview with Fox News, Dacus said the city of Albany is specifically targeting Christians. 

“If there was a giant LGBT flag or something like that, this city would embrace it. No problem. So it’s specifically because of the viewpoint and the religious viewpoint and perspective of the cross. That’s their agenda,” he said. 

The civil rights defender says the case will be a slam dunk.

“It is a vicious, blatant, anti-constitutional, discriminatory action by the City of Albany. And that’s what makes this case so shocking. You know, the city didn’t even hide it,” Dacus said, adding that he is “very optimistic with regard to the final outcome of this case” and will take it to the Supreme Court if necessary.


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