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4,500 Crosses Are Not a Church-State Problem—Unless in Shape of Giant Cross

Theft of Colorado display on childhood poverty sparks debate over public religious symbols.

A display of 4,500 paint-stick crosses planted by a Colorado church on a publicly-owned ski slope spurred some viewers to action. But, to the church's surprise one morning, rather than inspiring support for combating child poverty (as intended), the crosses were stolen—apparently due to their arrangement.

The Durango Herald reports that the church received a month-long permit from the City of Durango to display the crosses on the public hillside. Though the display fell into a "gray area between freedom of expression and freedom of religion," city manager Ron LeBlanc told the Herald that he did "not believe there was any solid policy to justify denial of the request."

The Crosses Project, an initiative of First Baptist Church of Bayfield, aims to display 19,000 hand-made crosses—one for each child who dies daily from the effects of childhood poverty—in hopes that the sheer number will help give a face to unknown children around the world. What the city apparently didn't know (prior to issuing the permit) was that the 4,500 crosses displayed on the ski slope were to be fashioned into one larger cross. And the larger cross apparently went too far.

The crosses, which the church had prayed for and planted on the rocky hillside, vanished overnight July 9-10. Neither the city nor the church has any leads on who might have stolen the crosses, but the city has received complaints over its approval of the display.

In a political climate where a third of Americans think the First Amendment promises too many freedoms, CT has regularly reported on controversy over religious displays, including federal protection of a Jesus statue-turned-skiing monument and attempts by the Rhode Island legislature to delineate which public religious icons are sufficiently secular.

Posted:July 24, 2013 at 12:51PM
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