Missouri city moves giant cross off public land after atheist group complains

A city in Missouri announced a giant cross located in Christian County will be moved off public land after an atheist group complained.

In November, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, or FFRF, sent a letter to Ozark, a city of less than 20,000, targeting a giant lighted blue cross that was part of the city's annual Christmas Lights in Finley River Park.

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FFRF's legal director, Rebecca Markert, wrote the illuminated cross is not a permissible city holiday decoration, pointing to a federal court case that found a cross unconstitutional as part of a city display because it is not a common Christmas symbol but a Christian one.

When the city announced it would take down the cross because having a religious symbol on public property would result in a lawsuit "we will not win," the mayor received hundreds of phone calls.

"Everybody wants it up," Mayor Rick Gardner told the Springfield News-Leader. "One lady is crying. This is part of Ozark. This is Christian County, for Pete's sake."

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City officials quickly reissued a statement saying that the cross would remain until the issue was resolved "in the interest of all parties."

Last week, the city announced the cross will be moved to the south side of the park on land owned by the Christian County A&M Society.

“In striving to balance the court of law with the court of public opinion, we have identified a solution that will relocate the cross from its current location on city-owned property to a privately owned parcel of property," the statement on Facebook reads.

The FFRF celebrated the move as a step in the right direction.

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“From the beginning, we’ve asked the city of Ozark to remove this cross or direct that it be moved to private property, where it would be more appropriately displayed,” Markert said. “FFRF is pleased to learn that the city finally agreed to relocate the cross to private property. This is a good step in honoring the separation between state and church and a victory for the Constitution.”

Reaction from the community has been mixed.

While some initially complained that the city caved to a group of outsiders, many celebrated the announcement.

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"It was moved, yes, but to a better and more visible location," Ragan Thompson-Sartin, who started a "Keepers of the Cross" Facebook page, told Fox News. "I say that's a definite win."