Cross on Overpass Mural Painted Over


Published on May 20 2020 2:08 pm
Last Updated on May 20 2020 4:28 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

The cross on the mural painted on the Raney Street overpass has been painted over. The action was taken Wednesday.


The overpass is owned by the City of Effingham. City officials were approached last year for permission to do paintings of various EHS sports squads in the tunnel of the overpass leading from the high school to the school's outdoor athletic complex. The City granted permission for the painting in the tunnel. 

In the meantime, the artist for the work, Jamie Stang-Ellis, painted a mural on the east headwall of the tunnel depicting the surrounding scenery including The Cross at the Crossroads in the city business park.

The mural was on display in the fall months, but the City got a letter in December from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Foundation argued that having a cross on government-owned property was unconstitutional, and asked that the cross be removed.

City Administrator Steve Miller said city officials researched the matter and the City Council discussed the issue in closed session under matters of litigation. Miller said the Council directed that he have the cross painted over. He said the City accepted the mural so it can remain, with the portion that formerly contained the cross painted over as part of the sunrise. The other segments of the mural, including the US flag, remain.

The City released the following statement regarding their decision later Wednesday afternoon:

The City does not have any artistic objection to the design or content of the mural. Nor does it take issue with the characterization of the Cross at the Crossroads as a symbol of the city and a strong representation of our town and culture. Most importantly, we agree that it represents private speech.

The City expressly recognizes that if the headwall was to be characterized as a public forum that a City official could not censor the content of any private messages depicted in that space based on the official’s personal political or religious views.

It is for precisely the foregoing reason that the City has chosen not to designate the headwall of the Raney Street Overpass as a public forum. Nor does the City find that permission was granted for the headwall to be used for private expression.

In light of the information described above, the City finds that the mural represents a private donation of art to the City on property which is not designated as a public forum, and therefore may exercise discretion whether to accept the donation in whole or in part.

While each City official might find the mural to be an attractive and accurate representation of the City, the Council wants to emphasize that the City of Effingham is an inclusive and welcoming city where broad and diverse viewpoints are accepted and respected. The last thing the City Council wants is for any members of our community to feel excluded or treated as second-class citizens because they hold a minority belief. It is in service to these principles that the City Council has altered the mural accordingly.