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Group Wants Cross Removed from Police Department Lawn, Chief Says No

SEARCY, AR -- A foundation advocating the separation of church and state says a cross on the grounds of the Searcy Police Department should be removed.
SEARCY, AR -- A foundation advocating the separation of church and state says a cross on the grounds of the Searcy Police Department should be removed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., says the cross displayed in the lawn of the department is a clear violation of government endorsement of religion.

Annie Laurie Gaylor says her organization has asked the department to remove the cross on more than one occasion.

"The Searcy Police Chief seems to mistake public property for private property," Gaylor says.

Police chief Jeremy Clark says the cross was already on site when he took over as chief in February 2013.

"Someone put it there, I didn't put it there, I don't know who did," Clark says. "I wasn't going to remove it just because this organization in another state told us that we should."

Similar crosses dot the landscape in Searcy. Clark says a local church makes the crosses and hands them out free of charge.

"We're here serving the citizens of Searcy and I don't feel like we've done anything to offend them," Clark says.

We spoke with residents on the square near the White County courthouse on Monday. All of them said they support Clark's decision to leave the cross in place.

"I think the Wisconsin folks ought to tend to their business, and we'll tend to ours," one woman said.

Gaylor says the organization filed the complaint on behalf of a citizen in Searcy who feels intimidated to speak out for fear of reprisals from the department.

"It's such a simple remedy," Gaylor says. "All they (Searcy) have to do is remove the cross, and if the police chief is partial to it, he can put it on his own lawn."
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