Christians in a San Francisco Bay Area community are fighting to restore a large cross which had overlooked the city of Albany for over 50 years.
On June 8, 2023, the city took down the cross after years of legal battles between the city council and a local community service group, the Albany Lions Club, which had maintained the structure for decades. The Albany City Council argued the cross shouldn’t remain as a religious symbol on public property and a judge agreed, granting the city possession of the cross in a prejudgment order last year.
But Christians in the community told Fox News Digital the cross was a fixture of the community and people who didn’t like the Christian symbol had stirred opposition against it by spreading lies.
“There were lies actually brought up against the cross saying that it had affiliation with the KKK. And there’s an atheist group that really hates the cross. And so they got people on city council and spread the lies,” Albany native Dorena Osborn told Fox News Digital. “There are many people, older folks, that remember really good memories… So this is really a part of Albany’s heritage.”
Osborn, a devout Christian, grew up visiting the cross and praying there often. The site holds special memories for her. It was where her husband proposed, and where she held her child’s dedication service and her mother’s memorial. The site was used by local churches for Easter services every year and was illuminated on Easter and Christmas.
Osborn’s grandparents were the original owners of the land where the cross stood. She said her grandparents agreed to put the cross on their property in 1970 as a place for people in the community to worship.
“The people of the community used to have Easter services there annually, going back to when my mom was a little girl. In fact, the fire department would help put the cross up on the hill. And so this was something my grandparents were able to do to preserve the heritage of the people,” she explained. “This is the history of the cross. It’s nothing like people are making it out to be.”
Before selling their land, her grandparents created an easement for the Albany Lions Club to maintain the cross, binding for future property owners. The land eventually became part of a public park in a development deal.
In 2015, the East Bay Atheists complained about the religious symbol on public property to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group, which advocates for the separation of church and state, filed complaints with the city of Albany about the cross and the city council began challenging the Lions Club legal easement in court. Members of the city council said publicly that the symbol was “inappropriate” in a public setting and “at odds with the inclusive values the city encourages.”
A now-retired Albany city council member named in the lawsuit argued that the cross was erected during a time when crosses were burned by the KKK in the region, a local outlet reported.
“To innocent newcomers, the cross might just be a lovely tribute to their faith,” the former council member said, according to the East Bay Express. “But to people who knew the background, especially those who had experienced the Klan period, the cross would carry a very different message.”
But Osborn and Albany Lions Club President Kevin Pope were adamant that the cross on Albany Hill did not share this history.
“There’s been stories told about the KKK being in the Bay Area and cross burning, and that has never happened on this cross. That’s not why it was put up. And believe me, the Albany Lions Club thoroughly vetted any evidence anybody presented to see if it was true or not. And it’s not,” Pope said. “If it had been a cross burning place, it probably wouldn’t have been put up there. We don’t want to be associated with that, and we’re not associated with that. But the same people keep bringing up the same lies.”
The Lions Club is not political or religiously affiliated, but raises money for causes in the community. Pope, a U.S. Navy veteran, said the group offered to buy the property from the city last year but the city council refused.
“The easy way out would’ve been to sell the land to the Lions Club,” Pope remarked. “But I think the city council [members] really hate what it stands for.”
He estimates the city will have paid “well in excess of $1 million” to fight for the cross to come down from legal fees and appraiser estimates of the property easement.
He questioned why that money couldn’t be spent on things the city needs, like new police cars. “It’s ridiculous,” he remarked of the ongoing legal battle.
The city council and Freedom From Religion Foundation, who fought for years for the cross to come down, got their wish in June.
Albany Mayor Aaron Tiedmann celebrated the move as a step consistent with the Bay Area city’s values.
“The city has actually put its money where its mouth is, and our city looks a little bit more accepting now in a way that we think is consistent with our values,” Albany Mayor Aaron Tiedemann told the East Bay Times. “For the small local group of people that really want to see the cross stay, when you’ve had such privilege for so long, losing it feels like being oppressed. That’s going to be an adjustment for folks, but I think we will all get used to it, and I think it’s a real benefit.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced they were pleased by the decision.
“It’s very gratifying and satisfying news to see the city do the right thing, even in a political climate that isn’t very supportive of separation of church and state,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “Kudos to Albany and their governance for fighting this and being so adamant.”
Osborn said what was once a place of hope is now a place of grief for her and her friends in the community.
” It’s really a grief about the cross. It’s not the same. But we’re going because we’re praying that the return of the cross, and we’ve been writing the little messages…where the cross used to stand, little messages of hope and encouragement. Every day somebody or something messes it up. So we redo it.. So it’s kind of sad,” she explained.
Pope vowed the local Lions Club would continue to fight to restore the cross upon the hill. But he was dismayed at how the cross’s message of love had turned into something ugly.
“I just I don’t like [how they’re] spreading the same lies over and over again,” Pope said. “Christians are called to be ambassadors for Christ, ambassadors for love. We want peace. We don’t want to fight about this. We are not against the city of Albany, but we are against the city council, the current city council. If they turned around and sold us the land, we’d be happy with that. We don’t want division, but they are bringing division, and it’s a small group of people that are doing it.”
The Albany City Council declined to comment on the story, citing the pending litigation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation told Fox News Digital they had never raised objection to the cross based on rumors about the KKK, but took issue with “the association of the cross with the Christian religion and the use of public land to promote a specific religion above other beliefs and nonbelief.”
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