The Edmond Sun

August 15, 2012

Church group takes up cross issue with City of McAlester

Jeanne LeFlore
CNHI News Service

McALESTER — At the next meeting of the McAlester City Council, a representative for a church association said he planned to present a resolution against the city’s decision to remove street sign silhouettes with soldiers kneeling before a cross.

“I’m on the agenda for the Aug. 28 meeting,” said James Prince, chairman of the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptists. He referred to the McAlester City Council’s meeting set for 6 p.m. that day at city hall.

City council meetings are open to the public.

City Manager Pete Stasiak said he had the silhouettes removed after he received a complaint and after checking with city attorney Joe Ervin. He said Ervin told him the religious depictions atop city-owned signs would be a conflict of church and state.

Tuesday, Stasiak he did not recall who made the initial complaint to remove the silhouettes.

“That was months ago,” Stasiak said. “I don’t remember who it was.”

Meanwhile, the city manager said he has not seen the proposed resolution from the Gaines Creek group.

Prince said he will present the resolution asking the city council to reverse the Stasiak decision to remove the silhouettes.

The association includes six Free Will Baptist churches: New Hope, Fellowship, Canadian Shores, Stuart, Bethel and Tannehill.

The silhouettes were placed on street signs throughout downtown by the city and were paid for by McAlester resident Bob Wallace. The silhouettes — black, one-dimensional cutouts — depict mostly small town- and western-themed scenes. Only the ones with crosses were removed by the city.

 McAlester resident Bill Derichsweiler said he was given the religious silhouettes by Wallace after they were removed and he questioned the reason.

“I couldn’t believe the city took those silhouettes down,” Derichsweiler said.

Last month, Wallace said he wasn’t happy with the city’s decision.

“I was upset and shocked,” he said. “We are in the Bible belt. This is a Christian nation.

“We’ve drifted so far away from Christian values.”

He said when the silhouettes were originally installed on the city street signs, he worked with Stasiak and then went with city workers to each sign. The ones bearing crosses were placed on signs near the churches on Washington Avenue, Derichsweiler said.

Meanwhile, the resolution dated Aug. 12 asks the McAlester City Council to reverse the city manager’s decision because removal discriminates against Christians. And that because the silhouettes picture soldiers kneeling in silent prayer, they should be allowed.

“The Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptists stand opposed to the removal of the ‘figurines’ depicting U.S. military kneeling in silent prayer ...”

Jeanne LeFlore writes for the McAlester News.