In what is being hailed as a victory for freedom of religion across the US, an atheist activist who brought legal action against a Texas church to stop the construction of a 230-foot cross on its property has dropped his case after the church counter-sued the atheist.
Patrick Greene, who sued the Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, and its Pastor, Rick Milby, over their plan to construct the tallest cross in the United States, on Wednesday dropped the case and pledged not to file baseless lawsuits over the freedom of exercise of religion, according to a press release from First Liberty, which filed the counter suit on behalf of the church.
"For far too long, atheists have been free to abuse the legal system and attack people of faith without consequence. This victory sends a clear message to anti-religion activists that the law does not allow you to abuse the legal system by repeatedly suing people because you don't like how they exercise their religion. And if you do, there will be legal consequences," Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, told The Gospel Herald in an email.
In his lawsuit, the atheist activist claimed that Pastor Milby had violated the state constitution by giving preference to a specific religion, and demanded the court punish the mayor and the council members for attending the groundbreaking.
"The only thing I was hoping to achieve was for a judge to tell the mayor and the two city council (members), you screwed up this time by going there in your official capacity, so don't do it again," Greene, a San Antonio native, was quoted as saying.
However, in the settlement, Greene dropped all claims against Pastor Milby and admitted before the court that his lawsuit was "baseless," "vexatious" and "without merit."
In turn, Pastor Milby said his congregation is eager to resume construction: "We are overjoyed that we were able to reach a favorable settlement so we can get back to building the cross and pointing people to Jesus."
Dys told The Gospel Herald that suing a church for constructing a cross on its property is simply one of many examples of anti-religious attacks on people of faith throughout the nation.
"In the settlement, Mr. Greene admitted his lawsuit was simply an attempt to intimidate Pastor Milby and promised to never again file such a lawsuit in the future," Dys said. "This is a total and complete victory for Pastor Milby, faith-based organizations and churches across America to show that such lawsuits are often merely empty schemes to intimidate people for exercising their protected civil rights."
When asked if there has been an upswing in such cases of religious freedom in recent years, Dys contended that "hostility to religious expression in America is growing at an alarming rate."
In fact, the 2016 edition of First Liberty's annual study Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America documents over 1,200 attacks on religious freedom, "despite our Founding Fathers' belief that religious liberty is the foundation for all other freedoms," he said.
Dys added, "Between 2011 and 2015, attacks on religious freedom in America tripled. Christians are increasingly targeted in schools, churches, ministries, the military, the government, the workplace, and throughout the public arena."