A Cross on Public Land; This Time in Providence

In Rhode Island, there’s a cross on public land. It’s not the one in Woonsocket, it’s the one in Providence, on a city owned median strip located at about 14 Pleasant Valley Parkway near the Coca-Cola plant.

The Humanists of Rhode Island sent a letter to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, asking that the cross be removed, as the presence of a cross on public property violates the First Amendment. Certainly there is no secular purpose for this cross, as is argued in the case of the cross in Woonsocket. No veterans are being honored at this site, the cross exists purely to evangelize Christianity.

Here is the text of the letter sent to Angel Tavares:

Dear Mayor Taveras,

I am writing on behalf of our group, Humanists of Rhode Island, because we assume you are unaware about a cross on publicly owned land in Providence Rhode Island. The cross is located on what we believe to be a city owned median strip located at about 14 Pleasant Valley Parkway near the Coca-Cola plant. I am not of the impression that this cross was erected by anyone acting on the behalf of the City of Providence, or that the cross in any way serves as a marker for an accident victim. This seems to be the construction of a private citizen using public lands to create a permanent fixture for the purpose of proselytizing, and as such is in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which neatly and essentially separates church and state.

I have enclosed several pictures of the cross in question.

Because the United States Constitution requires government to treat all religious viewpoints equally, failure to remove the cross indicates that the City of Providence intends to administer this median as a limited public forum whereby all religiously themed groups will have equal space and access. Should the cross not be removed, Humanists of Rhode Island plans to erect an icon of similar size and visibility on the median, and will vigorously defend other religious groups who wish to do the same.

Naturally, the City will be responsible for ensuring a fair and equal distribution of land area so that no one religion dominates, and for investigating and prosecuting any instances of vandalism that may hinder the free speech and free exercise rights of unpopular religious groups.

However, this solution is not our preference.

We respectfully ask that this cross be removed from public land. We do so as a local group, without the involvement of the ACLU, or the Freedom from Religion Foundation, or any other national group because we feel that as Rhode Islanders that we can deal with this matter “in house” as it were. We do not see the need for making a gigantic case out of this issue. The cross in question was not erected years ago, is not a tribute to fallen soldiers, and is not sanctioned by the city. The removal of this cross should really be no big deal.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and we eagerly await your response,

Steve Ahlquist

President, Humanists of Rhode Island

Here are some additional photos of the cross in question:

















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Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu

"There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

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