By James Beaty
McAlester city councilors decided on a split five-to-two vote Tuesday night to affirm City Manager Pete Stasiak’s decision to remove nine metallic silhouettes with crosses or other Christian symbols from atop city street signs earlier this year.
That means pleas from citizens who packed City Hall for the meeting and asked that that the crosses be reinstalled were in effect denied.
A second part of the motion directed Stasiak not to remove a silhouette from a street sign at the intersection of Third Street and Choctaw Avenue which showed a member of the U.S. military kneeling in prayer — although Stasiak had no plans to remove that silhouette anyway.
Voting “yes” in favor of affirming Stasiak’s decision to remove the nine silhouettes were Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith, who presented the motion; Ward 2 Councilor John Titsworth, Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read, Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason and Mayor Steve Harrison.
Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr and Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin voted “no” on the measure.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Council Chambers at City Hall for the meeting, with others standing outside in the lobby and still other parts of the overflow crowd watching televised proceedings in an upstairs meeting room.
Before voting, councilors heard from a number of individuals who asked them to make a stand in favor of reinstalling the crosses, while one individual spoke against it.
They also heard from Councilman Smith, who said the city had checked with four institutions that have defended somewhat similar situations in the past.
Two thought the city had no case; another thought the city might have a case on reinstalling two of the silhouettes, and another offered to help the city with its case if the matter should go to court, according to Smith.
Smith said research had shown that if the city lost a court battle, there was a significant chance the city might have to pay the other side a significant amount in attorney fees.
That didn’t change the opinions of those who were asking that the crosses be reinstalled, such as Debra Stone.
“I think what we’re facing here today is a line that’s been drawn in the sand,” Stone said, shortly before the council cast its vote.
“Our forefathers gave us freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” she said.
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