The Tennessee City Attorney had spoken over the demands of an atheist group, Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), to remove three crosses from public land that has been displayed since the 1950s.
In a press release, Elizabethton's City Attorney Roger Day had declined the demand of the Wisconsin-based organization regarding their dispute over the separation of church and state. He believed that the crosses did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The organization previously claimed that the three crosses on Lynn Mountain should be taken down as they were located on city property, violating the Establishment Clause. They reiterated that the city has overlooked the situation for decades.
However, Day argued that the ruling stated that "a religious symbol on government property does not violate the Establishment Clause so long as it has been imbued with a secular meaning."
"As such, it is my opinion as City Attorney of the city of Elizabethton that the three crosses can remain on Lynn Mountain on city-owned property," he maintained.
Day noted the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which the high court held that a 40-foot-tall cross on public property in Maryland did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
"I agree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in American Legion which held that 'long standing monuments, symbols, and practices' with 'religious associations' have a 'presumption of constitutionality,'" he wrote.
The FFRF frequently files complaints against violators of the separation of church and state. They sent a letter of complaint to the city on behalf of two residents in 2018, The Christian Post reported. They were suspecting that the crosses were being funded by the city due to renovations and lit up at night, and claimed that these were unconstitutional.
In an interview, FFRF legal fellow Karen Heineman said, "I don't know the facts of the funding and everything, but we did in 2018 look at land surveys to confirm that [the crosses] are on city property, and that certainly has not been argued."
"Our concern is we have these three Latin crosses, which are...defined as being religiously associated with Christianity. And we suspect at least some city funds are going to maintain them, lighting them up. And that's our concern. We feel the Constitution says otherwise, that that's not OK," she continued.
Meanwhile, the First Liberty Institute, a conservative law firm that engages in religious-liberty-centered litigation, has voiced support for keeping the displays.
Senior counsel Roger Byron argued that religious symbols could not be distinguished as unconstitutional just because of their location. "When you have an established display or established monument like the three cross display there in Elizabethton, Tennessee, it is presumed to be constitutional," Byron said. "It's strongly presented as constitutional; unless it can be proven otherwise. And to prove it unconstitutional is a very difficult thing to do."
"If a Latin cross as a central component of the county seal is constitutional, then certainly the cross display in Elizabethton, Tennessee, is constitutional," he added.