The FFRF Action Fund is giving the mayor of Albany, Calif., its “Secularist of the Week” accolade for making an unusually thoughtful and brave statement about the need to keep government spaces free from religion and welcoming to all.
When Mayor Aaron Tiedemann oversaw removal of a large cross from a city park earlier this summer, he told the media:
The city has actually put its money where its mouth is, and our city looks a little bit more accepting now in a way that we think is consistent with our values. For the small local group of people that really want to see the cross stay, when you’ve had such privilege for so long, losing it feels like being oppressed. That’s going to be an adjustment for folks, but I think we will all get used to it, and I think it’s a real benefit.
“It’s gratifying to see the city do the right thing, even in a political climate that isn’t very supportive of separation of church and state,” says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Kudos to Albany and its governance for removing the cross and being so inclusive.”
The city had inherited the property containing the cross in 1973. The land and cross originally belonged to a Lions Club member, who set up an easement to ensure the preservation of the cross before selling the land to a developer, who in 1973, gave the land for use as a park to the city, which continued lighting the cross.
Complaint letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and East Bay Atheists back in 2015 had set in motion the legal events surrounding the cross. When the city determined that the power line running up the hill to light the cross posed a fire danger and stopped lighting the cross, the Lion’s Club sued in 2017.
A federal judge in 2018 ruled the cross a violation of the Establishment Clause separating religion from government, and that decision was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. However, the city remained embroiled in litigation from the Lions Club.
The city finally took steps to remove the cross in June, although a court battle over its move to invoke eminent domain is ongoing. Mayor Tiedemann noted that citizens have complained for many years about the cross, calling it an unconstitutional eyesore that for some even summoned a legacy of KKK cross-burnings in the East Bay hills in the 1920s.
FFRF Action Fund wishes we had more mayors and public officials with the gumption to do the right thing, and be forthright and unapologetic about keeping government spaces and actions free from religion — and therefore welcoming to everyone.
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations, and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of non-believers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues. FFRF Action Fund serves as the advocacy arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has more than 40,000 members and works to keep religion out of government and educate the public about nontheism.