A federal judge ruled on June 19 that the cross must come down within 30 days. (Jim Littleemail@example.com)
Two law firms have offered to represent the city of Pensacola for free if it decides to appeal the Bayview Park cross case.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Liberty Counsel have separately sent letters to the city offering their services to appeal the case.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson issued an order Monday that the cross must be removed within 30 days because it violated the separation of church and state.
More: Legal expert: Pensacola ‘destined’ to lose if it appeals Bayview Park cross case
The city is still weighing its options before it makes a decision on how to move forward in the case, said city spokesman Vernon Stewart.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a nonprofit legal institute based in Washington, D.C., that works to defend the freedom of religion for all faiths. Attorney Luke Goodrich told the Pensacola News Journal the firm sent the city a letter offering its services after learning of the ruling.
Goodrich said the Becket Fund has appeared before the Supreme Court six times in the last five years and has been successful in every case.
“The city has a number of strong arguments it can make on appeal,” Goodrich said.
One of those arguments, Goodrich said, is the plaintiffs’ standing to sue the city over the cross. Andre Ryland, David Suhor and Amanda and Andreiy Kondrat’yev sued the city using the legal services of the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
More: Moon: Bayview Park cross was easy pickings for folks looking for a fight
“Two of the plaintiffs don’t live in Pensacola anymore and one of them actually rented out the space to use it for himself,” Goodrich said. “I think the courts, on appeal, are going to take a very hard look at whether the plaintiffs can sue over what really just amounts to an ideological disagreement with a really long-standing religious symbol.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, agreed the appeals courts need to take a hard look at the standing of the plaintiffs. The Florida-based Liberty Counsel describes itself as a Christian ministry that uses the law to advance and defend Christianity.
Staver said his firm offered to defend the city when the original lawsuit was filed in 2016 and renewed its offer after the judge handed down his ruling.
“There’s a real issue regarding whether or not the Supreme Court would strike this down,” Staver said. “In fact, the judge lamented having to strike it down, saying that Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on this issue has been confusing and he hopes that the Supreme Court clarifies the matter.”
The Liberty Counsel was labeled an extremist organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its defense of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a case that saw Moore suspended from office in 2016 for issuing orders to Alabama probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses in 2015.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center is a reckless and dangerous organization that labels organizations that disagree with based upon pure ideology,” Staver said.
Staver said his firm has successfully defended several religious monuments and was involved in a legal fight with the Santa Rosa County School District over a consent decree with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“This would be a good option for the Supreme Court to address,” Staver said. “Especially with the fact that this has been in place for so long. I think that weighs heavily in favor of the city.”
Attorneys from both sides explain the arguments in the lawsuit over the Bayview Park Cross after presenting oral arguments in federal court on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 in Pensacola, Fla.
Frank Ravitch, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law, where he holds an endowed chair in the school of religion and law, told the News Journal on Wednesday the case was unlikely to win on appeal.
Goodrich said he is friends with Ravitch but disagreed his assessment.
“There’s sometimes a bit of a disconnect between the ivory tower and what happens in the courts,” Goodrich said.
Lyle Denniston, a Supreme Court correspondent for the non-partisan National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, told the News Journal that if the case made it to the Supreme Court, it might reveal how Justice Neil Gorsuch’s recent appointment has changed the court’s view on religious freedom.
“There is now a realistic possibility that there could be a five-Justice majority to reconsider this entire area of church-state law, especially as to monuments and public prayers,” Denniston said in an email.
Never been to the Bayview Park cross? Let Troy Moon guide you.