By Robin Gericke, Staff Writer
Wilmore, “the town under the cross,” could become “the town under the water tower” if a religious freedom group from Wisconsin gets their way. The cross that stands atop the Wilmore water tower is being threatened by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an organization that serves to keep a separation between church and state.
Wilmore Mayor Harold Rainwater received an email on Sept. 29 from the FFRF asking the city to remove the cross, according to the Jessamine Journal. In the email, FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Market warned, “It is unlawful for Wilmore to display a patently religious symbol such as a Christian cross on public property.” Word about FFRF’s email soon spread. “I don’t know how it first got released to the media,” said Rainwater. He forwarded FFRF’s email to the city and legal counsel and three other city workers, but did not forward it to the media.
Although owned by the city, the water tower sits on Asbury’s campus. Asbury was the original owner of the water tower and placed the cross on the tower. When ownership of the tower and accompanying water system was transferred to the city in 1976, the contract included a stipulation that the cross be left in place. The electric bill for the cross is paid by Asbury, not the city. “When [the cross] was put there, Wilmore was called ‘the town under the cross.’ I think ‘the town under the cross’ is symbolic of Wilmore,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater seems surprised by the complaints. “In the 40 years I have been mayor, there have been no complaints about the cross,” he said. “The only complaint about the water town is when the lights burn out.” He is against removing the cross and said that people have contacted him to express their support of the cross. Two strong opinions of support he received were actually from atheists. One was a military person who said he fought on foreign grounds so citizens could have freedom of religion. The other person pointed out that believing in God and not believing in God are both faith-based religions. There is no such thing as freedom from religion.
FFRF has succeeded in challenges similar to this. The email recounted a 2011 case when FFRF sued the town of Whiteville, Tenn. which displayed a large cross on a water tower that was lit up at night. “Ultimately, the case settled and the town agreed to pay FFRF’s costs and legal fees, totaling $20,000, in a court case that need not ever have been filed,” Market wrote. “We wrote them a letter asking for the cross to be removed but were ignored.”
Dr. Neil Anderson, an Asbury Bible and Theology professor, doesn’t believe the cross should be removed from the water tower. “If I had any authority over the issue, I wouldn’t take that cross down. I don’t care whether it was a court order or what, I would not take it down. I don’t think that here in the United States that the kind of prejudice that we’re seeing expressed toward Christians and Christianity needs to be tolerated,” Anderson said. “I think the majority of people in the United States would like to see Christians stand up and say ‘No, we’re not going to take this anymore.’”
Every town has something they’re known for…I am proud of Wilmore being the town under the cross.
If legal action is taken, Rainwater acknowledged the city may be forced to remove the cross. However, he already has plans in mind to keep the cross raised. He said it’s possible the university would remount the cross on a nearby building. “Every town has something they’re known for. Some towns are known for their cheese or beer or the Derby, but I am proud of Wilmore being the town under the cross,” Rainwater said. “It is not a holy city or better than anywhere else, but to be known as the town under the cross is a high opportunity and a high blessing. I am proud to be the mayor of Wilmore. I was born here, I’m going to die here, and I will be buried here in Wilmore. I hope the cross is over it for all eternity.”