Cross, star create dispute in Reading

April 2, 2009 8:38:56 PM PDT
Two religious symbols that have been displayed in a Berks County community for decades have become the subject of debate. The symbols themselves are not the issue, but where they are located. A cross and star have adorned the city owned fire tower perched on a hilltop above reading for 50 years.

The cross is lighted for a month before Easter and the star similarly before Christmas.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the city saying they must come down because religious symbols posted on government property violate the first amendment.

Many residents question the request.

"I don't like it because I grew up as a Christian and I still am a Christian," Tony Brown said.

Art DeGrendele is not a Christian.

"I think it should be left up there and other religions have a chance to put some kind of cross or something up," DeGrendele said.

"They try to find a loophole to take it down. It should stay up regardless," Caesar Deluverea said.

"It's something that's been done for decades and it's not been a problem. Why now?" George Heninitz said.

Someone complained that the symbols violate a constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state.

The ACLU contends governments of diverse communities like Reading should not show favor to a particular religion.

If the cross and star are not removed, the ACLU may file a civil lawsuit against the city much like others it's successfully filed elsewhere.

Reading's mayor believes the symbols may have historic value that renders them an exception.

He's seeking legal and citizens opinions before deciding what to do.

"It's clear that we as a city can't spend a lot of money defending a suit that may not prevail, but on the other hand, I think we need to find resources to stand and defend those things that are part of our history," Mayor Tom McMahon said.

The cross will shine this Easter as it has for generations. The controversy could effect whether star is lighted for Christmas.

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