City of Evansville Approves Downtown Public ‘Art Exhibit’ of 30 Decorated Crosses

In Evansville, Indiana, 30 decorated crosses will soon be erected in public spaces, right on the city’s downtown riverfront. But don’t worry, they’re really sculptures, so it’s all in the name of art, as well as for the good of the people:

We’re doing it on behalf of the community. We will feel like it will bring people to the riverfront who wouldn’t otherwise come.”

That comment is courtesy of Roger Lehman, the West Side Christian Church member who successfully requested permission from Evansville’s Board of Public Works.

The polyethylene crosses — which will be temporary, going up this August 4th for about two weeks — will be decorated by children attending a Bible camp at the church.

It’s a little hard to imagine how the city government’s approval of the initiative is not a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, but City Attorney Ted Ziemer Jr. sees no legal problems, explaining that

“…the request is similar to one made by the United Way a few years ago, when artistic statues were placed in Downtown and later raffled off.”

The request might be similar — but the art?

Take a look below at one of the church’s proposed “sculptures” (although this pre-decoration cross looks to be about five to six feet tall, the final ones, according to the Evansville Courier & Press, will come in at eight feet each):

And these are some of the United Way sculptures that Ziemer implies are pretty much the equivalent:

Additional views of the animal art are here.

For starters, the animal sculptures seem much more modestly-sized than the crosses. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that crosses are Christian symbols par excellence, and zoo animals are, well, not.

You have to wonder whether Ziemer, Lehman, and the members of the Evansville Board of Public Works would have thrown their support behind a public-space exhibit of 30 of these, eight feet tall, no matter how purtily decorated:

The instinctive aversion that most American Christians will feel at the thought of accommodating, on public land, an exhibition of Islamic symbols as far as the eye can see, should give them a clue about the appropriateness of the 30 crosses.

In a nation that’s not a theocracy, there’s a certain nose-thumbing aggression about erecting dozens of downtown crosses as tall as a room; and there’s an unmistakable whiff of chutzpah in the twinkle-eyed assertion that they’re works of art rather than three-dimensional billboards for Jesus. If the legal departments of the ACLU or the FFRF feel the same way, we haven’t heard the last of this.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.