Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A group that supports the separation of religion and state wants a cross removed from in front of a Charleston fire station that city officials say honors nine firefighters killed battling a furniture store blaze.
The fight over the cross extends from a battle the Freedom from Religion Foundation had with the city last December when the group complained about a nativity scene in front of the same fire station. Officials added secular decorations, including snowmen, to comply with the law.
Most of the decorations came down by the new year, but the cross stayed up, the city saying it was now a memorial to the firefighters killed in June 2007, said Rebecca Markert, a lawyer for the foundation.
The foundation didn't buy the explanation, sending a letter last week to the city threatening to sue if the cross is not removed because it violates the U.S. Constitution by endorsing a specific religion. The group also said for the past five years the same cross had been removed at the same time as the Christmas items.
"We believe it is a sham to say it is now part of a permanent memorial when before it was being put up and taken down in December as part of Christmas," Markert said Tuesday.
The cross rests near a stone memorial with the names of the nine Charleston firefighters killed as they fought a blaze at the Sofa Super Store.
Lawyers for the city told officials it was a legal display because it is a secular emblem of death.
"The message communicated by the cross is clearly one of honoring fallen firefighters and not of furthering a religious purpose," lawyers for the city said in a news release.
The letter from the foundation gave the city a May 14 deadline to take down the cross.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.