Argument over large cross in Albany city park moves to federal appeals court

ALBANY, Calif. (KGO) -- It's now up to a federal appeals panel in San Francisco to decide whether a 20-foot-tall cross on display in an Albany city park should stay or go, and who should pay for it.

The local Lion's Club Chapter likes it just where it is, but the city of Albany says it is unconstitutional to have it on City-owned land.

"The cross display violates three separate constitutional prohibitions against government endorsement of religion."

That's the argument that attorney Andrew Dhuey made on behalf of the City of Albany and its mayor before the ninth circuit court of appeals this morning.

The City has been locked in a legal battle over the cross, which sits on public land inside a City-owned park on an easement owned by the local Lion's Club Chapter. The City wants it moved.

"Our idea was to have a plaza that the Christian Community could use at Easter and Christmas, but could be used by other religious faiths and non-religious groups at other times," said Albany Mayor Rochelle Nason.

"If you want it moved, pay for the move," said attorney Bob Nichols who represents the Lions Club.

The club erected the cross back in the 70's when this was private land. It was later sold to the City. The cross is lit up during religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. But in 2016, the City had the power temporarily cut off -- they say for safety. The Lions Club says it was for spite.

Nichols says the City had ample time to address this back in the 70's.

"If the City thought they were cheated, if the City thought they had a problem, they had five years to address it. They did nothing," according to Nichols.

After the power was shut off, the Lions Club sued the City in federal court, where a judge ruled the cross was unconstitutional, and the City should take it down, or sell the land. City attorneys called the ruling ambiguous and appealed to a three-judge panel of the ninth circuit.

At Thursday's hearing, they even brought a church pastor who agreed with them.

"To have a brightly lit cross shining down makes an assumption that everyone beneath that cross believes in the same thing," said Rev. Kevin Omi, a United Church of Christ Pastor from Los Gatos.
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