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Group targets cross display at Charleston fire station

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CHARLESTON, SC -

By Hatzel Vela  bio | email | Twitter

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A nonprofit organization that pushes governmental agencies to maintain a rigid separation of church and state has filed another letter of complaint with the City of Charleston, citing the Latin cross at a fire station as the reason.

The cross in question is considered a memorial to the nine firefighters who lost their lives in a 2007 business fire, city officials said.

The city issued a statement Tuesday evening in which the city's legal team said it is within the rights of the city and the fire station to maintain the presence of the cross when its purpose is a secular emblem of death.

The city believes that is evidenced by the message "Charleston 9 6-18-07" written on the cross.

"The cross is very appropriate. It's a memorial," said Charleston City Mayor Joe Riley. "We see crosses in graveyards, the cemeteries, throughout the world."

"The message communicated by the cross is clearly one of honoring the fallen firefighters and not of furthering a religious purpose," said the city legal's department release. "This is particularly true when you take into account the deep sentiment and support of not just the firefighters of Station 12, but our community as a whole, for honoring the Charleston 9."

"We'll fight all the way. We're right. We believe in it. We stand up for our rights and for our people," said Riley, who vowed the city would fight this issue in the court system.

"All of those firefighters that died were Christian," said Mike Mulkey, who lost his son Louis in the deadly 2007 Sofa Super Store fire.

Civil rights attorney George Daly, of Charlotte, N.C., is now representing the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is ramping up its efforts to get the city to remove the cross. In an April 23 letter to Mayor Joseph Riley Jr., Daly noted that the cross "has been there for a long time, and we are ready to take action to get it removed."

"I don't think [FFRF] has a concept of what it means to the firefighters at the city. That's their brothers," Mulkey said.

"And I don't think they care. That's the sad thing about I," said Mulkey's wife, Ann.

The foundation asked for a reply from the city by May 14.

[Read the letter sent to Mayor Riley. (pdf)]

Daly is also representing FFRF in its suit against a public school district in Spartanburg, S.C., for giving students academic credit for religious released-time classes.

In December, the foundation complained on behalf of its South Carolina members about the cross and a Nativity scene at Charleston Fire Station No. 12.

The city ordered the display taken down while its legal team was consulted. The display -- along with displays from other religious and non-religious ceremonies -- returned a few days later. The city cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that permits religious symbology on public property if the items are part of a larger, secular display.

The foundation called the city's decision a "sham."

 


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