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Church lacks standing to appeal order preventing erection of crosses on city property

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An Evansville church that sought to display multiple six-foot-tall crosses along the city’s public Riverfront cannot appeal the court order that prevents the city from allowing the display, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

West Side Christian Church sought a right of way permit from the city last spring to erect 31 plastic crosses decorated by children attending Bible school. The city’s legal counsel believed the display would be allowed as long as there was no “Jesus saves” language on the display. The city board of public works approved the display, but Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano filed a legal challenge in federal court.

The District Court ruled Evansville is permanently enjoined from permitting the cross display because it is an impermissible endorsement of religion that violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The city didn’t appeal, but the church did.

The 7th Circuit decided it didn’t need to address West Side’s arguments on appeal because it lacks standing to pursue the appeal. The District Court ruled the display violated Cabral’s and Tarsitano’s First Amendment rights and its entry of an injunction does not injure West Side in any way that the appeals court can redress, Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote in Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano v. City of Evansville, Ind.; Appeal of: West Side Christian Church, 13-2914.

If the court were to vacate the injunction, it would be up to Evansville as to whether to allow the church to display the crosses.

“That fact dooms West Side’s redressability argument because if were we to vacate the injunction, we could only speculate as to whether West Side’s injury would be redressed, and such speculation is not enough to support standing.

If West Side applies again for a permit and the city denies it, the church would then have standing to file a lawsuit and challenge the denial.

“We caution, however, that West Side’s road ahead might not necessarily get any easier if it ever attains standing to challenge the injunction. We question whether a reasonable observer would be put on notice that the “Cross the River” display is strictly private speech given the sheer magnitude of a display that takes up four blocks and has two signs alerting citizens that it is a private display,” Williams wrote. “However, because that issue is not before us, we need not resolve it at this point.”

 

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