An avowed atheist has sued the city of Santa Clara for disregarding his demands to remove a Christian cross from a public park.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Ninth U.S. District Court, Andrew DeFaria called the 14-foot granite cross at Memorial Cross Park an affront to the First Amendment. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group that advocates for church-state separation, has joined him in the legal challenge.
The cross stands on a half-acre park at Martin Avenue and De La Cruz Boulevard, the site of Santa Clara’s second Spanish mission. In 1953, a local Lions Club gave the monument to the “Mission City” to mark the site where the Franciscan outpost stood from 1777 to 1784.
In the complaint, DeFaria said he lives close to the park, where the presence of the “blatant religious symbol” has forced him to reroute on several occasions. He even bypasses streets around it to avoid an “offensive encounter with the city’s endorsement of the Christian religion through this symbolism.”
Reached by phone Friday, DeFaria gruffly demanded to know why anyone would be interested in the lawsuit.
“Why do people care?” he asked. “It’s something that comes up all the time, all over the U.S. and it’s always resolved in favor of the FFRA. Other than that, nobody needs to know anything.”
Then he hung up.
Santa Clara Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe, who’s named as a defendant in the suit with the rest of her City Council colleagues, said DeFaria may be reading too much into the statue.
“It’s a landmark,” she said. “It could have been any other religion, but it’s just a landmark that symbolizes the city’s history. Nobody’s using it to proselytize or anything.”
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation said it first asked the city to dismantle the cross in 2012. After subsequent requests went unheeded, DeFaria and the group say, they decided to take the matter to court.
Click here to read a copy of the complaint.