Camden County could head to court over future of 9/11 "Ground Zero Cross" painting

Published: Jan. 8, 2019 at 4:31 PM CST
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Tuesday morning brought a packed hearing room for the Camden County Commission, who allowed the public to voice their opinions on a complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the county.

The complaint is in regards to a photo of an American flag with a Bible verse, and a September 11th Memorial painting, which has been hanging in the courthouse since 2002.

"I think it's sad, that this many years later, we're all here," said Amber Parrish, the sister-in-law of Jessica Parrish, who painted the photo in her junior year of high school.

"When I look at that, I don't see a cross," Parrish said. "I mean, I obviously see that, too, but I see it as a symbol of hope and a reminder to what we've lost."

Nearly twenty people spoke in favor of the commission keeping the painting hanging on the courthouse wall - many echoing the same comments.

"If Camden County takes that picture down, you are failing the future of our children," said Beth Phillips. "They are trying to take away everything that reminds us of the past, and of things that have happened because somebody gets offended."

"What I would like to say to you guys is, don't stop fighting this," added John Beckett. "Because, I'd hate to see Camden County have to set the precedent [of having history removed]."

While there wasn't anyone from the Freedom from Religion Foundation at Tuesday's meeting, two people spoke in support of taking the painting down.

One of them represented the local woman who filed the complaint with the Wisconsin based anti-religion group.

"I spoke to one of the attorneys from Freedom from Religion yesterday. They intend to take this all the way to court. It's great that you're applauding that, but the fact is, you're going to lose," Joe Poor said.

Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty expressed his concerns with this going to court because of the high costs associated with that, but asked those in attendance for their opinion.

"What say you, if it costs Camden County a tremendous amount of money, does the painting stay? You could be talking $250,000."

Almost every hand in the meeting room was raised.

"If we don't take a stand here, where are we going to be at with out grandchildren," Hasty asked.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a statement on January 3, 2019 the federal court ruling protecting the actual Ground Zero cross doesn't apply to this, as it's not the actual thing.

KY3/KSPR's Andrew Havranek

emailed them for another statement Tuesday morning.

The group said:

"The Establishment Clause of our First Amendment bars the government from endorsing religion. No provision of the Bill of Rights can be waived by public opinion, no matter how plentiful or impassioned. It does not matter that many came forward and spoke this morning in favor of keeping the cross painting. This issue is not solved with a majority vote. Nonetheless, the comments at today’s meeting were highly informative. With a near-unanimous voice, those at the meeting expressed their firm conviction that the cross represents Jesus Christ, and that it should remain specifically for that reason. If the County is going to keep a cross on the wall because it is a cross—the religious motive that was highlighted this morning—then it has placed its seal of approval on a specific religion, which the First Amendment does not allow. Just like the bible verse above the ballot box, which the County correctly removed, the cross painting should come down."

Hasty said the commission would like to see a national group help join them in the fight for this painting to offset potential court costs as it seems this is where the future of this painting will be decided.

It’s a packed house here in Camden County. The Commission is hearing opinion from the public on the 9/11 painting that the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants out of the courthouse, saying it violates separation of church and state

Posted by Andrew Havranek KY3 on Tuesday, January 8, 2019