Chances are you’ve never even heard of Whiteville, Tennessee. As of the 2000 Census the town, in the west side of the state in rural Hardeman County, had a population of only 3,148, living in an area of 2.4 square miles. The median income for a family was only $28,603.
But what Whitehall does have is faith. That’s why, several years ago, the residents of the town raised funds to erect a large cross atop the town’s water tower.
But along came the Freedom From Religion Foundation—which filed a lawsuit. At first, the group’s founder Dan Barker filed the case on behalf of “a Whiteville resident and taxpayer.”
The town sought counsel from the Alliance Defense Fund; but faced with the prospect of an expensive legal process, Mayor Bellar had one arm of the cross removed. Technically, without one of its arms, the cross is no longer a religious symbol. What it is, though, is a symbol of the city’s proud defiance against atheist activists who drive up and down the freeway, looking for religious symbols that may be on public land.
Mayor Bellar wrote a letter to Nashville lawyer Alvin Harris, who represented the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “This brings to a close a sad chapter in the history of Whiteville,” wrote Mayor Bellar, “that can best be described as terroristic, cowardly and shameful! The fear and terror caused our older people here is shameful. So shame on your client and your firm!”
But the story doesn’t end there. As the cross’s arm came down, the people of Whiteville began to express their faith and their solidarity. People began to make crosses and stick them in their yards, on the sides of buildings, wherever they could. Citizens placed two crosses on the right of way in front of City Hall. The Mayor himself put up a cross in front of his business.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is still sputtering, and has filed suit again. The new lawsuit stops short of claiming that one of the city’s own had complained; instead, the legal verbiage was changed to “John Doe who occasionally comes to Whiteville to transact business.” In short, says Mayor James Bellar, there is one atheist out there somewhere, who is seeking to deprive the town’s Christian majority of their free speech rights.
This time, Mayor Bellar asserts, the town stands ready to defend itself. Bring it on!