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Crosses must come down, Pa. officials say

September 02, 1998|By DON AINES

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - The Franklin County Sunday School Association can continue holding summer services on state land, but will have to remove crosses that have been there for years.

The association and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry will soon remove the crosses from the Cathedral in the Pines, a small piece of land just south of U.S. 30 off Pa. 233.

The action was prompted by a Waynesboro, Pa., man who has taken up church-state issues in Waynesboro schools and at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown.

Caledonia State Park Superintendent Bruce McFate said he was contacted by Carl Silverman in May.

"Mr. Silverman raised a concern that he wanted to rent that area and we told him he wasn't able to," McFate said Tuesday.

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The association's exclusive use of the land has "been a long-standing gentlemen's agreement, because we never could find any paperwork" to support it, McFate said. The cathedral sits on both Bureau of Forestry and Bureau of State Parks land and the association has been using it since about 1918, he said.

McFate said the crosses are on forestry land so that bureau handled the issue. He said the park service has a long-standing prohibition against religious symbols on its land.

"The permanent unattended wooden Christian cross is a violation of the ... Constitution and must be removed," Silverman wrote in a June 4 letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

"I think the lawyers understood the problem that existed there... I have no idea why this went on so long," Silverman said Tuesday. "I certainly didn't expect the Sunday School Association to voluntarily inform the parks department it was violating the Constitution," he said.

Michaux State Forest District Forester Michael Kusko said an agreement renewable up to five years is being drafted to allow the association to use the land on Sunday mornings in the summer.

"I personally have no interest in the time slot," Silverman said. He said he doesn't object to religious services there, but wants the state to establish a lottery system to allow others a chance to reserve the land for any day or time.

There are four crosses - one mounted on a podium, two on a wooden entrance sign and one on a sign honoring the late Paul Kunkle, a past association president. Kusko said benches at the site can stay.

Silverman said he hadn't seen the sign honoring Kunkle, which was put up July 12, according to association President Les Walker.

"If that's the route to go, I guess we'll have to go it," Walker said Tuesday of the cross controversy. His group will be allowed to bring religious symbols to services.

"Of course we're upset because it's destroying what we've done for years out there," Walker said. The 10:30 a.m. nondenominational services often draw more than 100 campers and other visitors, he said.

He said the association wanted to make more people aware of its activities, but not in this fashion.

"We got our hand slapped and rightfully so," McFate said of the state's failure to have the crosses removed.

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