Huge cross to remain lit while Missouri town works through legalities after complaint

Facebook comment/Ragan Thompson-Sartin

This story was updated on Dec. 12.

A huge cross in a Missouri city park “will remain in place” for now despite a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, according to a statement posted to Facebook.

The telephone-pole sized cross has lit up every Christmas season for years as part of a “drive-through holiday light display” through Finley River Park in Ozark, the Christian County Headliner News reported. Ozark is a city of about 17,820 people in Christian County.

The cross is made from a permanent utility pole and lights, the newspaper reported, and it is one of dozens of displays in the public park.

In the city’s original statement posted to Facebook, the city said it received a complaint to take the cross down.

“While we respect the interests of those who have long enjoyed the holiday display in Finley River Park, we must acknowledge the Federal Constitution and its interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court,” the city said.

The cross was unplugged by the city on Tuesday, KY3 reported, and the city was “evaluating its options to keep it up or not.”

Now, though, the city has said in an updated statement that the cross will remain up and lit.

“As the day unfolded and citizens commented on this topic, we have determined that in the best interest of all parties we shall continue working through the legalities of the situation,” the release states.

The cross was lit up on Tuesday night, KY3 reported.

The original statement said the letter “brought a concern” to the city’s attention, and the city “cannot ignore the First Amendment which protects freedom of speech, protects freedom of the press, protects the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and prohibits the government from making laws or taking actions that may promote or prohibit one religion over another.”

City staff had originally decided a lawsuit over the huge cross is one the city would not win.

“It is the position of the City of Ozark that leaving a religious symbol on public property, in this case a cross, will result in a law suit that we will not win as the other communities throughout the U.S. and our own region have tried this and lost,” the statement says.

The cross has been a year-round display in Ozark, KY3 reported, but it was only lit up during the holidays. The park it sits in is leased by the city through a private company, according to the TV station.

Just an hour after the city made its original statement, nearly all of the first 80 comments were in support of the cross — and against taking it down.

Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers told the Christian County Headliner News that the City Hall phone was “steadily ringing” with people who were “rather upset” the cross was not lit, but the city was originally not planning to budge.

He also told the newspaper that the city is looking into the legality of other displays, including a nativity scene.

“I’m not sorry that we’re following the law,” he previously said, according to the newspaper. “I’m sorry that anybody in our community is offended by any of the actions that we take.”