Town agrees to display of crosses sponsored by pro-life organization

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Separation of church and state was the topic of a lengthydiscussion Tuesday between the Monticello Town Board and theLawrence County Civic Center Committee after a request to placeapproximately 360 crosses on the yard of the center was heard.

The Center for Pregnancy Choices, or CPC, made the request aspart of a national movement to oppose abortion. The group wants toplace the crosses on the lawn at the end of January to attractattention to its cause, said civic center steering committee memberRich Hunnicutt.

A similar request was denied last year. The crosses wereeventually placed across the street at Monticello BaptistChurch.

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CPC is repeating its request this year and says it wasdiscriminated against last year. Mayor Dave Nichols disagreed.

“That’s not it at all. I happen to be for their cause, but Idon’t think that’s a distraction we need at the town’s busiestintersection,” said Nichols. “There’s too much liability to thetown, as the property owner, if there should be an accident and thedriver says they were distracted by the field of crosses.”

Nichols said he asked the attorney general’s office if there hadbeen any ruling on whether the crosses would violate the separationof church and state. The attorney general’s office, Nichols said,told him crosses are placed at the state Capitol each year and havenever been challenged.

“However, he also said it was ripe for a challenge and I wouldsuggest we avoid it,” Nichols said. “I still remember the case inAlabama about the Ten Commandments.”

Board Attorney Joe Dale Walker agreed, saying it was a gray areaand a potential lawsuit the town could avoid. The civic centercommittee also received a letter from the American FamilyAssociation’s Center for Law and Policy supporting the request.

“It looks to me like they’re looking for a lawsuit (should thetown refuse them again),” Walker said. “If we do allow them to putit there, it should probably be put on the back side of the centerto avoid being a distraction.”

The board and committee eventually agreed to honor CPC’s requestto place the crosses, stipulating the group would be required topay the normal fee for use of the lawn and must place the crossesat the Brinson Street intersection.

In other matters, Nichols requested the board amend the employeehandbook to keep an employee, whose normal day off falls on aholiday, from receiving another day off. The current policy allowsa policeman or fireman scheduled to be off on a holiday to chooseanother day in the week to take as their holiday day.

“We’re giving them an extra day off, basically,” Nichols said.”This is costing us a lot of extra money in overtime when otherofficers have to cover those shifts.”

Aldermen Steve Moreman and Pete Mathews objected, saying theofficers would not receive any holiday benefits if the policy ischanged. The board tabled the matter until it could view figures onwhat the policy costs the town.