Town looks to sell land containing large cross
The Associated Press August 7, 2012 4:20PM
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:16AM
DUGGER — An attorney for an advocacy group seeking the removal of a 26-foot-tall cross from property owned by a southwestern Indiana town said Tuesday that the town’s plan to sell the site would be appropriate as long as it received fair market value and bidding was open.
The Dugger Town Council unanimously agreed Monday night to have an appraisal made of the less-than-half acre site at an entrance to the town along Indiana 54 in hopes that the cross could stay in place there.
The action comes after the town received a complaint last month from the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State and council members said it didn’t have the money for a court fight over the cross.
“I’m in favor of leaving it there, but all I ask is that it is done by law,” Councilman Lane Lovelace said of selling the property. “I don’t want whoever gets it to get sued.”
Church leaders and others in the 900-person town about 30 miles south of Terre Haute have pushed to save the cross, which has “Jesus Saves” written on it. Town leaders gave permission for the cross in 2010.
Resident Louie Bonham, who helped build the cross, told council members he was interested in buying the land so the cross could stay.
“It will remain where it’s at,” Bonham said. “We will take care of it.”
Gregory Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the group hasn’t yet taken any legal action over the Dugger cross but it was a clear instance of the town unlawfully endorsing Christianity.
Lipper told The Associated Press that the town shouldn’t steer the land sale to a specific buyer or be involved in maintaining the site after the sale.
“It can’t be a sweetheart deal,” Lipper said. “If it is a legitimate, arm’s-length transaction ... that likely would go a long way to addressing our concerns.”