Last Updated: Friday, March 17, 2017, 8:04 PM EDT
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking Longwood city leaders to remove a cross from its city commission chambers after the foundation reported it received a complaint.
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The cross is from a traveling Vietnam memorial visiting in the city last June. Lt. Col. Johnnie Richardson built the cross for the memorial, which he helped bring to Longwood.
“That cross stands for what our men and women in Vietnam died for, and gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Richardson.
After the memorial left Longwood, Richardson donated it to the city. The cross was placed in the city’s commission chambers. Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote Longwood’s mayor, asking him to remove the cross and place it somewhere private.
“The city is clearly privileging Christian veterans over others,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s perpetuating the old myth that there are no atheists in foxholes, a falsity exposed by the thousands of service members and veterans who are part of our organization.”
“Just because a cross represents Christianity, to me, it represents what we fought and died for, and that was our country,” said Richardson.
The cross when it was on display in Longwood at the memorial. (Photo by Lt. Col. Johnnie Richardson)
The cross sits next to two plaques, also from the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. City officials say they already planned to place the cross and plaques in a museum or historical display eventually. But Longwood’s mayor says the cross will remain where it is for now, despite the request to remove it.
“It hasn’t forced anyone to be a Christian, it hasn’t prohibited anyone from participating fully in city commission meetings or city events, so we don’t have any understanding of why they have such an objection to it,” said Longwood Mayor Joe Durso.
The mayor says he’s now getting calls and emails from all over the country from people supporting his decision.
Richardson says the cross was part of a traditional military observance of lives lost in battle, not a religious expression.
“This purpose of that cross was to honor our men and women in uniform who gave the ultimate sacrifice, nothing more and nothing less,” said Richardson.