Coos Bay faces challenge to cross in city park
COOS BAY — The city of Coos Bay is getting help from a Texas organization that fights for public religious displays as it decides how to respond to a challenge to a cross that's part of a Vietnam War memorial in a public park.
The action comes as the City Council heard emotional testimony Tuesday from community members, the Coos Bay World reports.
In February, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation said it was acting on local complaints and told the city in a letter it's unconstitutional to have the cross in Mingus Park.
The council has yet to say how it will respond. The city posted a statement on its website saying that the Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, has offered to advise the city, and the city has retained its services. The organization has represented veterans organizations in struggles over religious displays.
City Manager Roger Craddock said the city could leave the memorial as is and face a lawsuit, remove the cross from the memorial, sell or lease the land beneath the cross, or move it to private property.
To hear from community members, the City Council moved a meeting to the local library's conference room in expectation of a large crowd, and drew more than 100 people. Some who still couldn't get in waved American flags outside the window.
Among those who testified was Landy Marshall, who served in the Vietnam War and was among Jaycees members who built the memorial in 1972. He designed it.
“Where I got the idea was looking at TV and seeing all these bodies going to Arlington National Cemetery,” Marshall said. “And I can guarantee that the people that died weren't all Christian.”
Several audience members said they would block any attempt to remove the cross — by force, if necessary.
But there were others in the audience who disagreed with them, the newspaper reported.
Dawn Brittain, a spokeswoman for the South Coast Secular Society, said the choice of a cross excludes veterans of different faiths, or of no faith.
“I'm an atheist. That tells you what I don't believe,” she said. “I'm also a secular humanist. That tells you what I do believe in.”
Crystal Morris, who identified herself as an atheist, said fighting to retain the cross on the memorial would waste taxpayer funds and called for moving it to private property or removing it.
Information from: The World, http://www.theworldlink.com