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 and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Jasper

    I can’t wait until the Atheist art goes up. That’s queued up, right?

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      I’d almost rather have other religious art- statues of Kali, fertility goddesses, etc. I don’t know what explicitly atheist art even looks like.

      • C Peterson

        I was thinking the same thing. A bunch of fiberglass lingams and yonis. Maybe the same bible camp kids can paint them with scenes from the Kama Sutra. Now there’s some public art!

        • Nate Frein

          Pubic art?

    • A3Kr0n

      I think a big spaghetti and meatball dinner would be appropriate. Atheists could gather far and wide to eat of the Master, and giggle at the artwork from those pagan Christians.

    • sware73

      I think it wouold almost be worth it happening it if they just decorated them with accurate depictions of the gruesome, horrific imagery of some of the bible’s stories.

  • Guest

    On a positive note (if there is one), people who buy these crosses and put them up at their businesses will allow us a more informed decision when we shop.

    • anniewhoo

      Good point. Whenever I see a billboard with a Jesus fish on it (we have a ton of them down here in the South), I silently thank the owner for telling me I’d be happier giving my business elsewhere.

  • DougI

    Dogs everywhere will rejoice.

    • C Peterson

      And drunks. The more Christian the town, the more drunks. And you can’t beat a cross when you really need to go.

  • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

    I’d feel uncomfortable in any place with crosses lining the streets.

    • 3lemenope

      It’s for that old-timey Bootheel of the Roman Empire feel.

      • Patient 0

        Nothing says welcome to Indiana like old Roman torture devices. I’m pretty sure even Jesus would be disgusted.

        • Greg G.

          Think of it as homage to the remains of Spartacus’ army crucified along the Appian Way.

          • Sweetredtele

            Heh. Those Romans decorated 600 crosses for that party.

            • Greg G.

              I think it was 6000 for 120 miles. It’s bad enough seeing all the crosses and billboards with crosses driving through Indiana. It’s hard to imagine having to walk by them for four days.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            I am Spartacus.

      • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

        I understand that next year they are planning to put up 30 decorated gallows, followed by 30 decorated headsman’s axes and blocks the next year and 30 decorated electric chairs the year after that.

  • WoodyTanaka

    Time to file suit. Make these people pay. Hopefully we can drive the city into bankruptcy.

    • Kevin Beach

      That’s not the point, the point is to show them that they are wrong, not bankrupt them.

      • TheG

        I think his point was that the sooner we start having small towns feel the financial strain of their unconstitutional decisions, the sooner we can stop wasting everyone’s time with pointless government sponsorship of personal irrationality.

      • WoodyTanaka

        It’s 2013. They know or should know they’re wrong. The problem isn’t their knowledge, it’s that they don’t care that they’re breaking the law. Bankrupt them and their communities and perhaps they’ll stop acting wrong.

        • Kevin Beach

          Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by ignorance.

          The majority doesn’t get why this is wrong. I agree that they should know better, but they don’t. Obviously there are exceptions, some really do know better and don’t care.

          • WoodyTanaka

            But my point is that it can’t be adequately explained by ignorance. The question of whether towns can permit religious signs and statues has been a subject of wide public debate (and legal case law) for decades. You would have to live under a rock to run for one of these offices and not be at least aware that there is a legal issue here.

            Further, these towns have legal counsel who, no doubt, have advise them of the constitutional problems with permitting such infringements on the Establishment Clause.

            In this day and age, the only adequate explanation is that there are enough people on the municipal governing bodies who simply don’t care what the Constitution says or what the law requires. So if we bankrupt the city, then maybe the people in these towns will stop electing these people. Problem solved.

  • Chris

    I assume the bible study kids will decorate these in an entirely secular manner. Right?

  • LesterBallard

    I’m gonna need a pretty big jar and a lot of beer to equal Serrano on this . . .

    • Brian Westley

      That’s one I’d really like to see!

  • Charles M Taylor

    I’m waiting for some smartass to do one up in the style of GNR’s “Appetite For Destruction” album art.

  • Brian

    If they are “art” sculptures, then why not leave the decorating up to the community, instead of a Bible Camp? Would love to see some crosses decorated with Dawkins Quotes, FSM, Satan, Thor, Buddha, and anything else the community can imagine. If Christians claim that this is sacreligious and descration, then they are admitting that these are Christian symbols, not works of art.

    • Alix

      I love this idea.

    • Nathan Longhofer

      I imagine they are going to be decorated in all sorts of ways the “artists” did not intend.

  • Librepensadora

    You can always count on the politicians to claim that the cross is not a Christian symbol. Well, if it weren’t universally recognized as one, Muslims would not insist on the Red Crescent being the alternate name for Clara Barton’s group when it ministers in their countries.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Remember though, according to some. Christianity is not even a religion.

      • Drakk

        They don’t actually believe that. If they did, they would be okay with limiting the free exercise of Christianity.

      • Gordon Duffy

        Nobody who says “it isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” ticks the “No religion” box on their census form.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Ironically, the Red Cross has always been entirely secular, but many people do not realize it because of the choice of a cross for the symbol.

  • Jim

    One of the main reasons I was glad to leave E’ville after having spent my whole life there. Just became worse and worse from my point of view.

    • bendingoutward

      The truth is even worse: It stayed the same.

  • anniewhoo

    Whatever happened to making lanyards at summer camp?

    • Carmelita Spats

      It’s Jesus Camp…The kiddos learn how to make adorable thorny crowns, they play “Evangelize the Heathen”, “Crucify This”, sing “Jesus Kick Me Through the Goalposts of Life” and watch endless reruns of Mel Gibson’s B-grade slasher flick, The Passion of the Christ. They also learn post-apocalyptic techniques on how to hunt, stalk, and kill their own food or starve to death and how to barter and share the love of Jesus at gunpoint should they be left behind as part of the unsaved remnant after the Great Tribulation. All of this is accomplished while developing an intense persecution complex.

      I would have LOVED to see them make clay and Styrofoam figurines of a half-naked, bleeding, 33-year-old, virgin carpenter in a loincloth with googly-eyes from Hobby Lobby, hot glued onto the crosses. A complete crucifixion would have individualized their art project instead of indoctrinating them with the soggy aesthetics of mass production.

  • Mick

    A temporary display – hit and run – they will have scored their points long before ACLU or FFRF can get them into court.

  • http://www.zacparsons.com/ Zac Parsons

    This is my community, and we’re trying to figure out an appropriate response. It may turn in to a fight (and almost has in certain circles), but don’t we all look at situations like this as “teachable moments”? This city has plenty of black eyes, and I don’t want this to become the biggest.

    Seeking some wisdom on this…

    • TheG

      Sometimes, a bully needs a black eye to enact life changes and perspective awakening that come with being forced to reexamine his priorities.

    • Terry Firma

      Hi Zac:

      I’m the writer of this piece. Would you contact me, terryxfirma AT gmail DOT com? Would love to learn more about how agnostic and other non-Christian groups and individuals in and around Evansville are taking the news. Will there be pushback, you think? Of what nature? Thanks!

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Well Zac, that’s just your cross to bear.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        I see what you did there…

    • sane37

      ACLU + lawsuit

      • http://www.zacparsons.com/ Zac Parsons

        Yep. We’ll see how it shakes down. The DOMA ruling has everyone’s attention at the moment. It’s been a busy week…

    • bendingoutward

      It was my community for nigh thirty years. I have no wisdom to provide (even though it’s officially a dead cause … for now), but do sincerely wish for an actual positive bit of news to come out of the area in the near future.

      • http://www.zacparsons.com/ Zac Parsons

        Thanks bendingoutward. How do you keep track of happenings in the community?

  • beau

    Just put bird seed on top of them every day.

  • Donatello

    In 2012 Evansville was portrayed as America’s fattest city. Maybe the board simply wanted to create a distraction from that fact and couldn’t come up with a better idea.

  • Rain

    City ordinance would prohibit any writing on the crosses, according to city officials.

    I love how city ordinances often like to say the hell with the Constitution. It’s very common. The Constitution can be a real pain sometimes, lol.

    • allein

      They might be a religious symbol to someone or they might be attractive statues to someone else.

      Who finds a cross to be an “attractive statue” other than someone who already believes a cross has some meaning?

      • Rain

        Yeah he conveniently left out the part where it might be an unattractive or boring statue to someone else. Also his same argument could be made for every single losing Establishment Clause case ever. Prayer? Could be a religious prayer to someone or it might be a lovely poetry recital to someone else, lol.

    • WoodyTanaka

      Of course, otherwise how could city officials insure that there is no blasphemy or anti-Christian writing on the crosses… yet another reason why this is clearly unconstitutional. Sue ‘em into bankruptcy.

  • SeekerLancer

    “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.”

    Yeah, it will bring news crews when the lawsuits start.

  • newavocation

    Oh wait! Turn the crosses into parking meters! Holy spaces but don’t let your time expire.

  • Louie75

    Just another case of sneaking in religion under a disguise. If the Christians aren’t trying to paint themselves as the oppressed, they are finding other ways to dance around the separation between church and state.

    I think the local Muslim community should come out and proclaim this is a wonderful idea and then follow up with a proposal to have children decorate crescent moons.

  • Randy Robbins

    If it’s art, can some of them be unside down? Or broken?

  • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

    I wonder if the West Side Christian Church is going to kick out their Boy Scout Troop now that the national BSA allows gay kids to be members.

    Also, it would be hilarious if other religious organizations flooded the Evansville City Council with requests to place their religious icons art on the streets of the city. They couldn’t really deny any of those applications as they have already opened the door to Christian iconography so they wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on to deny say a Jewish request to put eight foot tall hand decorated menorahs along the street, or Buddhists from placing eight foot tall hand decorated statues of Buddha along the street or that wonderful Islamic representation. Hand decorated of course. And we shouldn’t forget the eight foot tall hand decorated Darwin fish for the Atheists.

    Just call it all “art” and we’re set to go.

    Benny

  • Mike Gomiller Sr.

    Maybe the Atheists kids should get together and make statues of Hitchens and Tyson and Bill Nye. Maybe, they could do a standing mural of the big bang.

  • busterggi

    I wonder if its too late to enter a work. I’d love to exhibit an eight foot tall cross with a clown nailed to it, its not religious – its art.

  • Sweetredtele

    There is a poll on that news page. Why hasn’t it been pharyngulated?

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      We haven’t heard about it, so….

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty
    • Randay

      It has been. The poll is at this moment 85% “NO”.

  • Crystal Bandy Thomas

    Illegal and tacky…

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Taaaaacky.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What if someone desecrates one of these art pieces by putting a dead body on it?

  • rustygh

    I feel bad for the bible study kids put on show to decorate crosses all the while being brainwashed. This is sad.

  • Lori F

    step 1) cut out images of torture. go back to lynching in the south, burnings in India, public executions in the middle east.
    2) stalk your target.
    3) this is a raid. speed is of the essence. you need spray glue. team 1 sprays the target with the glue.
    4) team 2 attaches images covering the bible school art collage with their own.
    alternate –
    find someone who has a garbage truck and assist with the removal of the trash.

  • Buckley

    I spent the last 40 years in Chicago and now for the last year have lived in Indianapolis. As much as I hate the religious conservatives here in this state, the only way to change the state is to have more social liberals move to the state. Look what’s happened to Colorado.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Terry, do you have an objective evidence to substantiate your statement that a “majority” of American Christians would feel “an instinctive aversion at the thought of accommodating, on public land, an exhibition of Islamic symbols as far as the eye can see” ?


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