A religious freedom group is encouraging a Wisconsin community not to cave to complaints about signs on public property that have a cross.
The atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin – located about 30 miles west of Milwaukee – complaining it is violating the Constitution with the two signs that display the message: "The Churches of Oconomowoc Welcome You."
The signs – stone structures with crosses on top – were erected over 60 years ago by civic organizations who footed the bill. There had been no complaints about the signs or crosses until FFRF noticed them.
Rick Esenberg is president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
"My organization sent a letter to the city saying Look, we don't think that you have to take these signs down – because in our view the United States Supreme Court has never said that the Establishment Clause mandates freedom from religion [or] that it mandates the removal of any reference to religion from the public square," he states.
Esenberg says if one believes the government should not favor a religion over another, or favor religion over irreligion, then:
"What message would be sent by requiring Oconomowoc to take down a very innocuous sign, which is not expressly associated with the city, to which no one has taken offense for 64 years? What message would that send?" he wonders.
Such a response to the complaint, says the attorney, could be interpreted as forcing the city to express hostility to religion – which government isn't supposed to do.
FFRF has responded to the letter, arguing that the crosses on the signs send a distinctly "Christian message" and that such displays on government property are "divisive, unnecessary and constitutionally problematic."
Like Esenberg's group, FFRF is also based in Wisconsin.