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Bay Area Christians fight city over 'hostile and targeted' cross removal: 'Discriminatory action'

A California club is fighting to get its cross back on what they say is their private property after an atheist group campaigned for it to be removed. 

Fifty years ago, a devout Christian asked the Albany Lions Club to build and maintain a large lighted steel and plexiglass cross on his private land, to be lit during the Christmas and Easter seasons. When lit, the cross is visible for miles, which the group says sends “its message of God’s love and as a comfort to the Christian community.” 

The surrounding area has since become public land but the cross is part of an easement dispute between the City of Albany and Lions Club.

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) – a conservative legal defense organization based in California – filed a petition for relief after the City of Albany removed the cross in June 2023. Brad Dacus, its president, told Fox News Digital he believes the city has an animus towards Christians. 

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“If there was a giant LGBT flag or something like that, this city would embrace it. No problem. So it’s specifically because of the viewpoint and the religious viewpoint and perspective of the cross. That’s their agenda,” he said. 

“The City’s public statements and actions have been hostile and targeted the Christian cross because [of] its religious message,” the petition, filed on March 22, said. “The City Council lacked neutrality and attacked the cross and the Lions for its free exercise of religion and free speech.”

Dacus said he believes the statements from city officials give him a slam dunk case. 

“It is a vicious, blatant, anti-constitutional, discriminatory action by the City of Albany. And that’s what makes this case so shocking. You know, the city didn’t even hide it,” Dacus said. 

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The petition cited comments from then-Mayor Aaron Tiedemann, who is associated with the Green Party. Tiedemann served as mayor from December 2022 to December 2023 and is currently a member of Albany City Council. 

Tiedmann celebrated the cross removal in 2023 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,” he told the East Bay Times in June. “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 petition drew attention to the East Bay Times reporting, “Tiedemann, who grew up in Albany, said people have long complained about the cross for a litany of reasons: it symbolizes a preference of one religion over others, offends some members of the city’s diverse communities, is reminiscent of KKK cross-burnings in the East Bay hills in the 1920s, and is an eyesore.”

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Dacus says the city is using eminent domain to claim ownership over the property, and ensure the cross’s removal. 

“The takings clause doesn’t allow the government to take property because they don’t like the religious speech,” he said. “If they could get away with this, make no mistake, then they could get away with taking down a church with eminent domain, or any other kind of religious entity or organization. And, of course, we all know that the Constitution forbids that.” 

Dacus explained he was “very optimistic with regard to the final outcome of this case” and was willing to take it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. 

He added that anti-Christian sentiment in the U.S. was relatively new and was coinciding with an uptick in antisemitism.

“The feeling of hostility and bigotry against… the Christian community is something that is relatively new. It’s really come to the surface just within the last few decades and has specifically spiked within the last decade itself,” he said. “We’ve seen religious intolerance against the Jewish community in the past. Unfortunately, it’s spiking. Antisemitism is unbelievably blatant and open in our country, our universities.”

The PJI president said that voters need to be aware of who they are electing to ensure they are selecting those “sensitive towards religious freedom” who will “not give in to the leftist extremist ideology.”

Fox News Digital reached out to Tiedemann and did not immediately receive a response. The City of Albany said it was unable to comment at this time due to pending litigation.

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