Federal court date set for three crosses' lawsuit
By Jose L. Medina, Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, New Mexico), July 16, 2006
The "three crosses" lawsuit against the city of Las Cruces is set for trial Nov. 27 in federal court, said Paul Weinbaum, a plaintiff in the case.
The lawsuit, filed last year by Las Crucen Martin Boyd and Weinbaum on behalf of himself and his then-6-year-old daughter, seeks to have the three crosses removed from city logos and city buildings.
Another lawsuit was filed by Weinbaum and Las Crucen Jesse Chavez in 2003 against the Las Cruces Public Schools for its use of crosses on its vehicles and logos. No trial date has been set in that case.
The lawsuits allege that the city and LCPS violate the First Amendment by placing religious symbols on public property. Plaintiffs claim that the display of the crosses amounts to using public funds to promote religion.
To date $35,000 has been spent to defend LCPS against the lawsuit, said Paul Sovereign, assistant vice president for Carl Warren & Co., the third-party claims administrator for the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority.
According to City Manager Terrence Moore, the city of Las Cruces has spent just over $16,000 defending itself since the lawsuit was filed nine months ago.
Weinbaum declined to disclose the amount of money he and his fellow plaintiffs have spent on the two cases.
Weinbaum, who initially represented himself in the case against the city, has now hired a lawyer.
The latest twist in the case has the plaintiffs contesting a court-ordered report by a New Mexico State University professor that was meant to be used as expert testimony.
"We knew we were going to reach a point where we were going to hire an attorney," Weinbaum said, who is now represented by Brett Duke of El Paso.
Weinbaum said he was compelled to hire an attorney because lawyers for the city and LCPS have been filing a number of motions.
"They were harassing us to no end," Weinbaum said.
William "Rusty" Babington, the lead attorney handling the defense for the city and LCPS, denied any harassment, saying defense attorneys have had nothing other than normal communications with Weinbaum.
Weinbaum has challenged a report by Jon Hunner, an NMSU history professor who was selected to provide the court with an account of the historical significance of the three crosses.
According to Weinbaum, at the time Hunner was commissioned to do the report, he was also under contract with the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau to provide a similar report.
Weinbaum said Hunner's contract with the visitor's bureau is a conflict of interest and taints Hunner's report, though he admits there are some parts of the report that are helpful to his case.
"... The use of the crosses have become a civic symbol, divorced from its religious origins," Hunner wrote. "This use of the crosses in the city logo exemplifies how civil religion intertwines church with the state and utilizes a religious symbol without endorsing a particular religion.
"Consequently, at the moment, there is no excessive governmental entanglement with religion. If in the future more of the city's citizens identify the crosses with their own Christian devotion, then there could be such an excessive entanglement."
Weinbaum has asked the court to have the report thrown out or order the report to be rewritten.
He said he remains undeterred in spite of threats he has received since he filed the lawsuit.
"It's worth it. This is the rights of the people. This is the First Amendment. This is worth it to me," Weinbaum said.
A Report on the Use of Crosses in the City Symbols of Las Cruces
Prepared for Judge Robert C. Brack by Dr. Jon Hunner, January 26, 2006
This is the report referred to in Weinbaum's story and in the July 16 report in the Las Cruces Sun-News. Continue. (It is a PDF file.)
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