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A Dream to Build “The Tallest Cross in America”

Pastor Rick Milby of Abundant Life Fellowship says a cross changed his life – twice. The first time was when he became a Christian. The second time was in June 2013, when he drove through Houston with his family on vacation and saw a massive white cross in the distance. “As we drew closer to the cross, we were amazed at its enormous size,” Milby says. “The entire time of our vacation, that image of the cross was on my mind.”

A few months later, Pastor Milby met with leaders at Sagemont Church in Houston, where the cross is located, to learn about how and why they built it. Milby says the church leaders shared “story after story about lives that were changed, suicides that were aborted, and relationships that were restored because of the influence of the cross.”

The Sagemont Cross inspired Milby to build a cross for his city, Corpus Christi (translated the “Body of Christ”). Together with members of his church, Abundant Life Fellowship, Pastor Milby began work to build a cross along Interstate 37, directly across the street from a veterans cemetery. Once completed, at 230 feet, it will be the tallest cross in America.

The Groundbreaking Ceremony

On January 31, 2016, Abundant Life Fellowship Church held a groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site. In celebration of the occasion, Governor Greg Abbott sent a commendation to the church, saying, “Throughout our great state, communities of faith work every day to share God’s message of love and put it into action. This 230-foot cross will do just that on a truly grand scale.”

Corpus Christi officials Mayor Nelda Martinez, Councilwoman Carolyn Vaughn, and Councilwoman Lucy Rubio attended, along with other community leaders.

Suing a Church Over a Cross

Shortly thereafter, San Antonio atheist Patrick Greene filed a lawsuit against Pastor Milby, accusing him of violating state law by inviting city officials to the cross’s groundbreaking ceremony. Greene, who has a history of filing lawsuits over the free exercise of religion dating back to the 90s, complained that the mayor and city councilwomen violated the Constitution by attending the ceremony. In the past few years, Greene has also threatened or filed lawsuits over nativity scenes, public prayer, and now a cross on church property. (Read exhibits in First Liberty’s Motion to Dismiss for more examples)

Corpus Christi Cross 2

A previsualization of the Corpus Christi Cross. At 230 feet high, it will be the tallest cross in America.

Legal Action

On behalf of Pastor Milby and Abundant Life Fellowship, First Liberty filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on Monday, March 21. Shortly after First Liberty filed the motion, Greene filed a nonsuit attempting to remove himself from the case. However, since First Liberty filed a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), the law required that a hearing be held within 90 days.

Greene sent profanity-laced emails to First Liberty staff members protesting any legal response to his litigation. (Read redacted emails)

A court hearing was held on May 24, 2016 at the District Court of Nueces County. During the hearing, Greene entered into to a court-approved settlement agreement, dropping all claims against Pastor Milby. Read the final court order.

In the settlement, Greene admitted that his lawsuit was “baseless,” “vexatious” and “without merit.” As a part of the settlement, he entered into a “covenant not to sue,” agreeing to cease filing meritless lawsuits over the free exercise of religion.

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty, says, “We are grateful that Mr. Greene has admitted that his lawsuit – filed against a pastor for building a cross on church property – is baseless and without merit. Today’s outcome should send a clear message to anti-religious freedom activists everywhere: if you abuse the legal system by suing people simply because you don’t like how they exercise their religion, there will be legal consequences.”

The 170-foot Sagemont Church Cross in Houston, Texas inspired Pastor Milby to build the Corpus Christi Cross. (Photo credit: Sagemont Church. May be republished.)

The 170-foot Sagemont Church Cross in Houston, Texas inspired Pastor Milby to build the Corpus Christi Cross. (Photo credit: Sagemont Church. May be republished.)

ATHEIST RELENTS; ENTERS LEGAL AGREEMENT TO CEASE FILING LAWSUITS OVER FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION

After filing a lawsuit over the “tallest cross in America,” atheist activist admits the lawsuit was “baseless,” “vexatious,” and “without merit” and drops all claims


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX, May 24, 2016 – Today, during a court hearing, atheist activist Patrick Greene reached a court-approved settlement agreement with Pastor Rick Milby of Abundant Life Fellowship Church. In the settlement, Greene dropped all claims against Pastor Milby, who Greene sued over the construction of a 230-foot cross, which will be “the tallest cross in America.” Read the final court order: FirstLiberty.org/corpus


In the settlement, Greene admitted that his lawsuit was “baseless,” “vexatious” and “without merit.” As a part of the settlement, he entered into a “covenant not to sue,” agreeing to cease filing meritless lawsuits over the free exercise of religion.

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty, says, “We are grateful that Mr. Greene has admitted that his lawsuit – filed against a pastor for building a cross on church property – is baseless and without merit. Today’s outcome should send a clear message to anti-religious freedom activists everywhere: if you abuse the legal system by suing people simply because you don’t like how they exercise their religion, there will be legal consequences.”

Pastor Milby, Senior Pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship, says, “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.”

The hearing was presided over by Judge Missy Medary at the 347th District Court of Nueces County. 

Read more about this case: firstliberty.org/corpus

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org

To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin, Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute. Email: kdulin@firstliberty.org, Direct: 972-941-9575, Cell: 214-542-4334.

The 170-foot Sagemont Church Cross in Houston, Texas inspired Pastor Milby to build the Corpus Christi Cross. (Photo credit: Sagemont Church. May be republished.)

The 170-foot Sagemont Church Cross in Houston, Texas inspired Pastor Milby to build the Corpus Christi Cross. (Photo credit: Sagemont Church. May be republished.)

Corpus Christi Cross 2

Pre-visualization of the Corpus Christi Cross.

 

Catholics for Religious Freedom copy