Irate residents in the Chicago suburb of LaGrange are fighting the presence of a new breed of stealth cellular antenna disguised as a cross, erected recently by Sprint PCS on the grounds of LaGrange Christian Assembly Church.

Sprint has erected more than 7,000 cell towers around the country—25 on church property—with thousands more planned. Cellular and PCS providers are seeking antenna sites to link cell service from grid to grid, preventing dropped calls or loss of signal.

Neighbors say the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals violated the law by approving the project without notifying them of public hearings on the matter. Sprint admits to inadvertently omitting a handful of area residents from notification about the 116-foot-tall tower. But Sprint PCS spokesperson Ed Mattix says, "It's not in our best interest to do anything that would alienate the local community."

If the zoning body ordered Sprint to remove the cross tower, lawyers for the telecommunications giant hinted they might use the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (CT, Jan. 11, 1999, p. 20) as grounds for appeal. However, Steve Evans, pastor of LaGrange Christian Assembly, opposes any such action.

"We will be no party to using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to keep that pole in place," Evans says. "That law is reserved for matters of high religious value."

Neither participant will divulge how much money Sprint is paying the church for use of the property, although the congregation is using the proceeds to help finance 26 missions projects.

Nearby resident Laura Wittkamper, a Christian, is not overjoyed about the new structure. "Yes, the cross is more attractive than some of the cellular towers you see, but it's a very ominous structure," she says. "It's big and it doesn't belong here."

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