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Oregon Court Orders Removal of Neon-lighted Cross from City Park

A 51-foot, neon-lighted concrete cross on a hilltop in a public park overlooking this city of 70, 000 was ordered removed today by a Lane County Circuit Court Judge following a complaint filed by 10 local residents represented by Leo Pfeffer, special counsel of the American Jewish Congress. The complaint was filed by two Congregationalists, two Unitarians, an Episcopalian, a Jew, a member of the Bahai sect, and three Humanists, on the basis that the cross stands on public property and thus violates the constitutional principle of church-state separation.

The idea for the concrete cross — there have been wooden crosses atop the hill in the park since 1936, all of which were blown down by the wind and weather — originated with the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity at the University of Oregon. The students raised funds for the cross and commissioned John Alltucker of the Eugene Sand and Gravel Company to design and build a cross of concrete in time for Easter 1964.

When the fraternity applied for a city permit, a storm of controversy arose on the university campus and in the city of Eugene. No official action was taken by the city. With the approach of Christmas 1964, Mr. Alltucker decided to give the giant cross to the city as a gift. With no advanced notice to anyone, workmen hauled the cross to the top of Skinner’s Butte on November 28, 1964 and set it in place.

In mid-December 1964, the Eugene City Council by a vote of 7 to 1, granted the necessary building and electrical permits all post facto, which legalized the action of the contractors and gave official sanction to the presence of the cross on the city-owned hill.

(In New York, Howard M. Squadron, chairman of the AJCongress’ Commission on Law and Social Action, hailed the court ruling as a “major victory for the religious freedom and the constitutional principle of church-state separation.”)

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