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The City of Coos Bay will hold a special meeting on April 2 with the only agenda item being the Vietnam VeteranÕs Memorial in Mingus Park. Local vets want to keep it where it is and a Wisconsin-based group wants it removed. The memorial has been in the park since it was installed in 1972.

Lou Sennick, The World

COOS BAY — A leader of a Wisconsin-based watchdog group says the group will oppose any city government attempts to shield a contested memorial cross in Mingus Park from removal.

Annie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said transferring the property containing the cross to a private party would be an admission that local government is trying to defend a religious symbol.

“It’s a contrivance,” Gaylor said. “To divest significant — even to divide significant land — it hurts the taxpayers.”

While the City of Coos Bay has yet to propose transferring ownership of the cross as an option, other contested memorials have been dealt with in that manner.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the National Park Service’s transfer of land containing a contested memorial cross in California’s Mojave Desert exempted the cross from lower court rulings that found its presence unconstitutional.

The cross at the heart of the Coos Bay controversy is part of a Vietnam War memorial donated to the city in 1972 by the Bay Area Jaycees and Western Bank.

The city received a letter from the foundation in February, saying the display of the cross on public property was illegal, and demanding its removal.

Gaylor maintains the foundation is only acting in response to complaints from marginalized residents.

“We don’t interject,” she said. Gaylor didn’t know the exact number of complaints received regarding the cross, but she said it didn’t matter.

The foundation has yet to make any specific legal threats toward the city.

“Our goal is to end the violations without having to go to court,” Gaylor said.

(The World interviewed Gaylor on Wednesday. Foundation representatives were not available for a previous article in Saturday’s World.)

The Coos Bay City Council has scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. April 2 at the Coos Bay Public Library to discuss and hear public comments on the fate of the cross.

Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at thomas.moriarty@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.

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