Applaud, but don't subsidize, giant cross
(Fast-forward to 32:00 to view Pastor Rick Milby's comments to the City Council.)
Religious symbols can unite people, but also unfortunately can divide them, in direct conflict with their intent. Corpus Christi, which literally means Body of Christ, has been no stranger to that sort of conflict.
In 1928, Gutzon Borglum, designer of the Mount Rushmore monument, proposed a 32-foot statue of Jesus Christ in Corpus Christi Bay, designed so that Jesus would appear to be walking on water, calming the seas.
Great idea. But it encountered opposition and didn't happen. According to our archives, one local pastor of a Christian denomination drummed up opposition because idolatry didn't sit well with him. According to other accounts, the Ku Klux Klan, which was pretty big back in that day, killed the plan in a fit of anti-Catholicism.
We have much higher hopes for a better outcome for a planned million-dollar 200-foot-tall cross off Interstate 37. The project already endured one lawsuit brought by an atheist. The suit was rejected in 2016 for being frivolous. It was. The cross location is private property and the Federal Aviation Administration hasn't objected to its height.
The plaintiff made an issue of the mayor and City Council members showing up at the groundbreaking. But that was just them attending an event of their free will. They didn't take any actions as a council to turn a private project public. So this wasn't even remotely a separation-of-church-and-state issue.
But a proposal by Pastor Rick Milby of Abundant Life Fellowship, leader of the cross project, could open a door that should stay closed.
Milby, addressing the City Council during public comment at Tuesday's meeting, proposed that the city waive permit fees for the cross. He said it'll be a national landmark, the tallest cross in the nation. We agree with him that it would be a sight for visitors to see and a site for pilgrims to visit.
But we're uncomfortable with Milby's assertion that the city government should participate in this religion-based investment.
Already the city has cut him a break on the some of its fees, reducing what would have been a $2,051.85 total to $973.85. It's a standard discount granted to religious organizations. The city should stay within that parameter and save its economic incentives for purely economic projects.
Just about any faith-based construction project can be touted for its mutual financial benefits to the community. They all provide temporary employment to those who build them and continuous employment for those who operate them. And some of them draw people from far away.
That would have been no reason for the city to help the Catholic Diocese to build the historically significant Corpus Christi Cathedral or First United Methodist Church to install its prominent, critically acclaimed Jesus statue on its property on Shoreline Boulevard.
The public shouldn't have had to contribute its public dollars to those two projects because not all of the public is Catholic, or Methodist, or Christian, or religious at all. Using the people's money for those projects, even in a form as seemingly insignificant as forgoing the permit fees, would have been tantamount to forcing them to participate in their construction. It would have been in direct conflict with freedom of religion.
Also, imagine if the cross instead were a 200-foot Star of David or Islamic Star and Crescent. The council should be neither faster nor slower to say no, but its answer still should be no.
Council members still are free to encourage the project, donate privately and spoon out pinto beans and potato salad at barbecue fundraisers.
We encourage Milby to pursue completion of the cross project in ways that will unite people of all faiths and no faith. One needn't be a believer to want to see it and marvel at it. Surely there's potential for interdenominational collaboration. Just keep government out of it.