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Christians in Albany City, California Fight Back vs. cross removal

During a Fox News interview Pacific Justice Institute founder and president Brad Dacus said California's Albany City Council is specifically targeting Christians. Dacus recently filed a petition in behalf of the Albany Lions Club to reinstate a 28-foot cross that stood for over 50 years, until it was unceremoniously taken down on June 8, 2023. 

“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,” Dacus insisted. 

The city of Albany is accused of removing the cross after an atheist group complained, starting years of legal battles between it and the Lions Club, a San Francisco Bay Area community service group responsible for the cross' upkeep since it was constructed in 1971.

A PJI public statement contends that 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 a January 29, 2024 ruling, an Alameda County Superior Court Judge approved the action of removing the iconic cross formerly situated on Albany Hill.

The judge's decision held that “The Lions Club has not shown that its organizational purpose, its mission, involves promoting religious activities.”

Therefore, the Club cannot file a claim based on Free Exercise of Religion.

An unnamed "devout Christian" requested the "lighted steel and plexiglass cross to be built on his private land and maintain it in perpetuity."

The cross was purportedly located where the community could meet others in Christian fellowship and group prayers.

It was lit for the Christmas and Easter holidays to send “the message of God’s love” and be a “comfort to the Christian community," according to the PJI press release

The cross was also a community meeting place for weddings, baby dedications and memorial services.

The symbol of Christianism was allegedly erected on private land owned by one of the club’s members. The plot's true ownership is now being disputed with the city of Albany, which seized it last year. 

In 2017, Albany's then-Mayor Peggy McQuaid publicly condemned 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"

The Alameda County Superior Court in Jan. 2023 demanded the cross be removed, declaring that the Lions 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 on June 8, 2023, Albany's then-mayor made his voice heard in support of the decision. 

“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,” former Mayor Aaron Tiedemann at the time told the East Bay Times. 

Tiedemann, who is now part of the city council, rather than addressing the issue of the religious right to freely display a public cross, he said the Lion Club’s cross was a “privilege."

"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,” Tiedemann said.

Evidently, the Christian minority group in Albany must get over their feelings of oppression.

“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.”

Tiedemann grew up in Albany. He insisted that people have complained about the cross for reasons including it prefers one religion, is offensive to some members of the city’s diverse population, is a reminder of 1920s KKK cross-burnings in the East Bay hills and is a monstrosity.

The Albany Lions intend on roaring back.

“The City’s public statements and actions have been hostile and targeted the Christian cross because [of] its religious message,” the Club's petition reads.

“The City Council lacked neutrality and attacked the cross and the Lions for its free exercise of religion and free speech.”

Dacus also stated that the First Amendment of the U.S. 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.”

The petitioners believe that the case will be an obvious ruling in their favor.

“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.

This is an ongoing story. The Christian Commander will monitor the situation and provide updates, breaking news and special reports.

Reginald Spann is the senior writer, editor-in-chief, publisher and founder of The Christian Commander.



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