A controversial 28-foot Christian cross perched atop Albany Hill Park for greater than 5 many years is formally gone.
Effectively, at the least for now.
Early on June 8, the town quietly eliminated the electrically illuminated metal and plexiglass cross, which the Albany Lions Membership put in in 1971 on then-private land. The hushed elimination was Albany’s try to lastly allay accusations of constitutional violation, handle residents’ resentment about one faith being given choice over others, and release extra space on the 1.1-acre plot of what’s now public park house.
However the cross’ ouster is simply the newest chapter in a contentious years-long combat between the town and the Lions Membership, a group service group, which has historically lit up the cross each Easter Sunday and Christmas week. The town is now “preserving” the cross in storage, however metropolis officers didn’t reply to repeated requests for clarification on its present location, citing pending litigation.
“The town has truly put its cash the place its mouth is, and our metropolis seems a bit of bit extra accepting now in a method that we expect is in keeping with our values,” Mayor Aaron Tiedemann mentioned in an interview. “For the small native group of individuals that actually wish to see the cross keep, while you’ve had such privilege for thus lengthy, dropping it seems like being oppressed. That’s going to be an adjustment for people, however I feel we’ll all get used to it, and I feel it’s an actual profit.”
In 2015, teams such because the East Bay Atheists and the Freedom From Faith Basis despatched letters to the town demanding its elimination. In addition to invoking the separation of church and state, in addition they mentioned the ability line that runs up the hill to gentle the cross posed a hearth hazard. When PG&E minimize off electrical energy to the road at Albany’s request in 2017, the Lions Membership sued, claiming the shutdown was “a part of a harassment marketing campaign to power the cross off the hill.” In accordance with court docket paperwork, PG&E changed the road earlier than restoring energy.
A federal choose then dominated in June 2018 that the cross violates the institution clause of the First Modification as a result of governments are forbidden from selling one faith over one other. The ninth U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals upheld that call in December of 2019.
Hubert “Purple” Name, a Lions Membership member and councilman who had the cross put in in 1971, arrange an easement to make sure its preservation earlier than promoting his land to a developer, who later gave the property to the town in 1973 to make use of as a park.
However by April 2022, the Albany Metropolis Council unanimously determined to accumulate the land internet hosting the cross by eminent area. As required via the lawsuit course of, the town plans to compensate the Lions Membership for taking on the easement.
A trial set for July 17 will formally rule if the town is legally allowed to do that and the way a lot Albany should pay, however in January the court docket granted the town’s request for “prejudgment possession” of the easement the place the cross was erected, which green-lit the construction’s elimination earlier than a last choice is reached subsequent month.
The Lions Membership unsuccessfully tried to enchantment the choice in March.
Whereas Albany might technically skirt the constitutional downside by merely promoting the land to the Lions Membership, Tiedemann, the mayor, mentioned the choice to do away with the Christian image altogether was extra aligned with the present group’s values.
Tiedemann, who grew up in Albany, mentioned individuals have lengthy complained concerning the cross for a litany of causes: it symbolizes a choice of 1 faith over others, offends some members of the town’s numerous communities, is harking back to KKK cross-burnings within the East Bay hills within the Nineteen Twenties, and is an eyesore.
However the Lions Membership has continued to argue in court docket that the cross’ ouster is tantamount to “desecration of (a) sacred image.”
Robert Nichols, the Lions Membership’s lawyer, argues that Albany created this downside within the first place. He mentioned the town made a dedication to the Lions Membership roughly 52 years in the past that the cross can be preserved for all, together with “one believer who actually hugs the cross day-after-day.”
The controversy is particularly private for Dorena Osborn, Hubert Name’s granddaughter, who mentioned her household by no means would have offered the land with out anticipating the cross to be protected.
“My grandparents needed to protect the heritage of the group, who already had a convention of getting companies on the hill with the cross however didn’t have a everlasting place for it,” Osborn mentioned Friday. “It breaks my coronary heart that folks distorted the historical past of the cross, saying it was a KKK cross, and that’s so not true. … What’s ironic about Albany is that their platform is ‘variety and tolerance.’ That is utterly towards variety and tolerance.”
Kevin Pope, president of the Albany Lions Membership, agreed. Relatively than spend doubtlessly as much as $1 million in public cash for the land, he mentioned individuals who don’t just like the cross ought to merely not take a look at it.
The town’s “excuse for utilizing eminent area is they need an unencumbered park, which to me is ridiculous. I feel they’re losing the town’s cash, and I feel they simply gave the town of Albany a black eye,” Pope mentioned. “There’s lots of people who find it irresistible being up there — lots of people go up there and pray and have church companies. It’s sacred floor to us, and taking it down exhibits their intolerance towards Christian values.”
Whereas considerably unlikely, the court docket might disagree that the town is inside its rights to say the land, and a choose might order that the cross be resurrected again atop Albany Hill — on the metropolis’s expense.
Elected officers have lengthy been divided about what to do with crosses erected in public. In 1997, for instance, San Francisco resolved a lawsuit towards it over a 103-foot-tall cross on Mount Davidson by promoting the land underneath it to a neighborhood nonprofit group that deliberate to take care of it as a memorial for Armenians who died throughout the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
In 2006, 1000’s of white, picket crosses have been erected alongside a personal hillside property close to the Lafayette BART station, making a memorial of U.S. troopers killed within the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that was seen from Freeway 24. However the cross’ destiny stays unsure after the household of the couple that had owned the land appeared ready to promote the property.
Albany’s choice to take away the cross delighted Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-founded the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Faith Basis in 1976 to push again towards spiritual symbols, teachings and worldviews from creeping into public entities. The inspiration fields 1000’s of complaints every year about all the pieces from publicly funded Bible research and e book bans in colleges.
In a time that sees Christian nationalism on the rise, she mentioned, she’s happy that the town didn’t decide to resolve the problem with a “sweetheart” deal to promote the land and hold the cross.
“It’s very gratifying and satisfying information to see the town do the precise factor, even in a political local weather that isn’t very supportive of separation of church and state,” Gaylor mentioned. “We do have a tendency to listen to extra issues within the Bible Belt, however typically I feel the Bible Belt is all over the place.
“Kudos to Albany and their governance for preventing this and being so adamant.”