A case against the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico is going forward, in an attempt to force the removal of three crosses from the city’s official logo.
According to the Associated Press, plaintiffs Paul Weinbaum and Martin Boyd filed a lawsuit against the city last year in the U.S. District Court, in Albuquerque. The lawsuit alleges the emblem violates the constitutional separation of church and state by placing religious symbols on public property and spending public money to promote religion.
Las Cruces is Spanish for "the crosses."
The lawsuit also accuses the city of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring prospective employees to sign job applications that include a religious symbol.
"The crosses serve no governmental purpose other than to disenfranchise and discredit non-Christian citizens," said the lawsuit filed by Paul F. Weinbaum, who lives in the Las Cruces area, and Martin J. Boyd of Las Cruces.
Las Cruces Bishop, Ricardo Ramírez, told CNA that the symbol, as well as the city’s name, is based upon historical and geographical circumstance and not on any direct religious influence.
Bishop Ramírez said that while the precise history of the name is still being studied, popular tradition holds that several people died in the area which is now Las Cruces and were buried by loved ones who planted crosses over their graves. The area became known as Las Cruces by passersby who used the crosses as a geographical landmark. When settlers established a village in the area, it logically kept that name.
“Obviously,” Ramírez said, “the name and the symbol were not chosen by any priest or bishop; this is a symbol which has arisen by choice of the people in the area.”
“It would seem appropriate to keep the symbol as it has been based upon historical and geographical significance. The symbol of the city has been three crosses forever,” the bishop said in a phone interview.
The trial is set to begin in November. According to the AP, New Mexico State University history professor Jon Hunner is expected to provide the court with an account of the historical significance of the crosses.
A separate lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Weinbaum and another Las Cruces resident, Jesse Chavez, against Las Cruces Public Schools for its use of the crosses on its vehicles and logos. No trial date has been set in that case.
Defendants include city officials, city councilors, Mayor Bill Mattiace, District Attorney Susana Martinez, state Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Gov. Bill Richardson.
"We have had to defend ourselves before and we're ready to do it again," Mattiace said.
"The crosses have a basis for being in our logo. We will hold course and will defend that.”