McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

August 12, 2012

Church group wants city council to reverse decision that removed crosses from street signs

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — A local church association asks the McAlester City Council to reverse a decision by the city manager to remove street sign silhouettes depicting soldiers kneeling before a cross.

A group of members representing the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptists met recently and signed a resolution asking the city council to reverse the city managers decision to remove the silhouettes.

“It offended me when I saw they took those down,” said James Prince executive chairman of the board for the association.

The association includes six Free Will Baptist churches including; New Hope, Fellowship, Canadian Shores, Stuart, Bethel and Tannehill.

“It just goes against the grain for me and probably 95 percent of the other folks in the area,” Prince said.

The removal came to light after McAlester resident Bill Derichsweiler said he was given the silhouetts by Bob Wallace, the man who paid for them.

“I went to the paper and to Pete Stasiak and Joe Irvin and I told them I couldn’t believe the city took those silhouettes down, Derichesweiler said.

“ I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t keep those up on the signs.”

 Wallace the McAlester business owner who paid for the silhouettes said he was saddend over the removal.

“It made me feel bad,” he said.

 Stasiak said. “I had them removed because of a conflict with church and state.”

Stasiak was referring to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”

Joe Ervin attorney for the City of McAlester said there was legal reason to remove the signs.

 “The First Amendment prohibits government from any establishment of religion; the cross is a Christian symbol,” Ervin said. “ It’s the same as if it had been a crescent moon or the Star of David or any symbol representing a specific faith.”

Meanwhile the resolution signed by the church association asks the McAlester City Council to reverse the city manager’s decision because removal discriminates against Christians.

A letter with the resolution from the association states;

“For several decades the one percent that oppose Christian values have worked very hard to impose their secular beliefs on the other 99.9 percent through our Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches.”

“In the last decade you might recall that the City of McAlester yielded to the unpopular pressure to remove a cross from its logo. Recently the City installed (silhouettes) depicting a US Military kneeling in silent prayer. By order of the city manager these...were removed supposedly so not as to offend anyone. Much could be said about that but I think you get the picture.”

The resolution argues that because the silhouettes picture soldiers kneeling in silent prayer that they should be allowed. Because silent prayer is not a violation of the Constitution.

“The Gaines Creek Association of Fee Will Baptists stand opposed to the removal of the “figurines” depicting US Military kneeling in silent prayer.

The United states Supreme Court has ruled that silent prayer, a moment of silence, silent meditation is legal.”

The resolution says the depiction should be “welcomed” not removed.

“The military witness of actual battlefield situations should be welcome gesture and not put in a negative light to offend those who stood in harms way to protect our freedoms.”

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Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.