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Do we practice what we preach? We hold ourselves as Americans out to acknowledge that we are open and tolerant and founded on principals of freedom. We drape ourselves in the Bill of Rights to protect the things we want but do we truly protect those things we don’t like.

Recently, Pensacola has found itself at the center of a national debate related to a cross which has stood for more than 60 years in Bayview Park. While the arguments have focused on who is right, they should have been focused on what kind of community do we want to create?

The very beginning of European settlements in what is now known as the United States is centered on religious freedom and tolerance. Just look at the Pilgrims, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania. However, in each of those settlements, it would have totally been expected that symbols could and would have been displayed.

While I firmly and steadfastly support the religious freedom and the prohibition of a national religion in our Bill of Rights, a cross is not the establishment of a religion. It is a symbol related to a religion. There are symbols to religion and other principles throughout our public buildings and parks in Pensacola, much less than places like Washington D.C. that is totally created on symbols.

Supposedly we now have to remove a symbol because one person was offended. This is a misapplication of the law. No symbol is universally liked. Let’s take the most popular symbol in Northwest Florida, the Blue Angels on the Escambia County seal. While I know the Blues are loved here, I know in less than 3 hours, I could find 4 people who are offended by that symbol, the same number who filed suit against the cross.

This brings us to the real question, how tolerant are we and what is the community we want to create? While Christianity is a majority now, its history has not always been that way. At times, Christian symbols have had to vary to prevent its believers from persecution. Yes, the U.S. judiciary now has joined some of the best autocratic Caesars, like Nero, Caligula and Diocletian, who have disallowed Christian symbols.

My point is no symbol, religious, national, ethnic or cultural, is universally liked, but they are all important to the people that are represented by them. No one says anyone has to like a symbol. The only thing that should be embraced for us to create the unique and great country our founders envisioned is that we should tolerate the symbols of others. We are a better community when we do that and we are more likely to find unity in respect than in division.

We have real problems in Pensacola and the United States. Removing symbols that mean something to people in our community does nothing to help us find solutions or unity. Instead it creates division and distrust that makes solutions harder to find. Whether business or politics, I have never had a problem working with anyone who is represented by a different symbol than me. However, if someone can not respect the symbols that represent me, then that severs our ability to move forward together in relationship.

I don’t need you to think the way I do or to come from the same background or believe the same things as me for us to be friends and work together. All I need is for you to respect me and tolerate my symbols as I will do for you. That is what lies at the heart of the Bill of Rights, respect, and that is what has been lost in Washington D.C. and in our judicial rulings.

If we truly believe in tolerance and diversity, then the cross should stay. Otherwise, are we really as open and tolerant and supportive of freedom as we say? I support the cross staying and I hope Pensacola will find a way to ensure it does for we are better when we respect than when we remove.

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