City sells portion of public park to private foundation to preserve cross display

(YouTube/Ace Jackalope)The cross display at Big Spring Park in Neosho, Missouri appears in a screen capture of a YouTube video.

The officials of Neosho city in Missouri have decided to sell a portion of a land to a private foundation to preserve an 80-year-old cross display.

Following a public meeting at the Lampo Community Center on Monday, members of the Neosho City Council have decided that it would be in the city's best interest to transfer a portion of land surrounding the display to the Save Our Heritage Foundation, a private corporation registered with the state of Missouri.

In May, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote a letter to Neosho Mayor Ben Baker to complain about the cross figure that lies on the side of a hill in Big Spring Park, which is public property. The group asserted that the display violates the U.S. Constitution because its public location creates the impression that the government endorses Christianity.

At the time, the atheist organization advised the city officials to either remove the cross from the park or transfer it to a private property.

Some residents who have heard about the FFRF's complaint have since urged the officials not to cave in to the group's demands.

City attorney Steve Hays said that the officials felt that it was the best option for everyone instead of potentially paying attorney fees if someone decides to sue the city for having the religious symbol on public land.

"I think it's important to uphold the law, but we also need to represent the people," Baker said, as reported by The Joplin Globe.

On Wednesday, Hays wrote a letter to the FFRF, advising the group about the city's decision to transfer the land surrounding the display to a private company in an effort to avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle.

"Effective this date, the City of Neosho has transferred the ownership of the land at issue and contains the cross which had been the motivating factor of your foundation contacting the City of Neosho," Hays stated in the letter.

In response, the atheist organization wrote another letter to the city voicing its skepticism about the transfer.

"If the intent is to save the religious display, the purpose of the transfer is religious and could be considered a legally problematic sham remedy," the letter from FFRF read, according to Christian News Network.

According to The Joplin Globe, the goal of Save Our Heritage Foundation was "to acquire from governmental bodies and private entities interest in real property for the purposes of retaining and preserving the historical, architectural, archaeological or cultural aspects of the property including, but not limited to, monuments, markers and other structures of historic significance."

The FFRF contended that a fencing must be installed around the cross, along with a disclaimer sign to eliminate the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.

Richard Davidson, who is listed as the corporation's registered agent, said that the foundation will own an approximately 60-by-50-foot section of land, and it will be solely responsible for maintaining the cross without the use of taxpayer money.

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