The Camp Verde Town Council seemed eager last week to put the recent controversy over a cross that hung on the wall in the town’s gym behind them.
The cross is owned by the Bread of Life Mission, a Christian, Camp Verde charity group that uses the gym to give out free meals on a regular basis.
The cross used to be displayed only when the group was using town property, according to the mission’s director, Duane Burris, but wear and tear on the cross led the mission to just leave the cross on the gym wall full-time.
It was there for years until a woman attending the town’s annual Easter egg hunt in April became offended and asked that the cross be removed.
Nothing was done; the woman then filed a complaint with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that works, among other things, to keep religious imagery off of government property less people of other religious or no religious beliefs feel excluded from the political process.
The group’s viewpoint is supported by the United States Supreme Court; Town Manager Michael Scannell and Burris agreed to take down the cross when the group sent a letter to the town.
The cross will still be allowed to be displayed when the Bread of Life is using the gym, said Town Attorney Bill Sims at a public meeting earlier this month, a nod the law gives especially in the West where, once upon a time, government buildings were by necessity multipurpose buildings.
The removal of the cross angered many town residents, dozens of whom vowed to fight to keep the cross displayed as long as they could.
But the law is the law whether you like it or not, said Councilwoman Carol German, and as a government entity The Town of Camp Verde is bound to obey the law.
“I think it’s unfortunate this event has escalated to this,” German said.
German said it was especially important that the town recognizes that Scannell made the only decision he could have made, given the interpretation of the laws concerning church and state.
“When the issue came up, [Scannell] did his job,” German said. “We have to trust our town staff to do that.”
Councilwoman Norma Garrison, the wife of a local pastor and a supporter of keeping the cross up, said that she and Scannell would just have to “agree to disagree” on this issue.
Garrison said she feels the issue was a policy decision that needed to be handled by the Town Council but realized that the argument over the boundaries between church and state is one that’s being fought across the country.
“It’s regrettable that the town received a complaint,” said Councilwoman Robin Whatley. “We have to live by the law of the land, and if the law isn’t acceptable then we need to work on changing it.”