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Federal appeals court dismisses church's appeal of order barring Evansville riverfront crosses

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EVANSVILLE, Indiana — A federal appeals court has dismissed an Evansville church's appeal of a judge's decision barring its plan to display 31 crosses along four blocks of the city's riverfront, saying the church lacked standing because it was not a party to the original lawsuit.

The ruling by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Wednesday said the West Side Christian Church could have standing if it applied to Evansville for a permit to display the crosses and were denied. However, the court decision also said "West Side's road ahead might not necessarily get any easier if it ever attains standing to challenge the injunction."

West Side Christian Church attorney Chris Wischer told The Associated Press on Thursday that the church was still considering what it would do next.

"Options haven't been laid out and considered just yet," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit last June on behalf of Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano Drake asking a federal judge to block the city's plan to allow a local church to erect 31 6-foot-tall, 4-foot wide crosses decorated by Bible school children along a public sidewalk near the Ohio River, arguing it would violate Supreme Court rulings involving separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled in July that the crosses would convey an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the city.

Drake told the Evansville Courier & Press she hopes the city can move on and that West Side Christian Church will celebrate their religion and their crosses on private property. She said, she was disappointed, however, the court didn't rule on constitutional grounds.

The court ruling indicated that the church likely would have a constitutional challenge if it continues to pursue the display on public property.

"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," the court decision reads.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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