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Church plans to build 60-foot cross

JANESVILLE (AP) — A Janesville church plans to erect a 60-foot lighted steel cross where it will be visible from the freeway, a decision in which the city has little input.

The New Life Assembly of God Church plans to begin construction on the $60,000 cross by the end of the month, said the Rev. Michael Jackson, pastor at New Life.

“We want New Life to be known as the ‘Church of the Cross,'” he told The Janesville Gazette.

The city has little to say in the matter. The church doesn’t need a permit for the cross because the city’s attorney concluded the project is protected under federal law, said Gale Price, a spokesman for the department of community development.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 prohibits local laws “that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches.”

Price said there are “certain things tied to a church’s ministry that are basically hands off.”

The cross will be set at an angle at the corner of Wright Road and Highway 14 to maximize visibility from Interstate 90/39. It will be 15 feet shorter than the church’s steeple, which has a cross at the top.

Church members considered erecting a 100-foot cross but decided that would be too ostentatious, Jackson said.

“Twenty acres will support a 60-foot cross. I’m not sure it would look right to have a 100-foot cross,” he said.

While the church doesn’t need a permit to erect the cross, it does need an electrical permit for the lighting, Price said.

Jackson said the church is cognizant of how the light will affect its neighbors. He also said he expected criticism and disdain from “a certain element in the community” but that the church was prepared to deal with it.

He expected critics to ask why the church doesn’t just use the money to feed the poor.

New Life already gives “tens of thousands of dollars” to a food pantry and other charitable efforts, Jackson said.

“Anyone who knows me or New Life Assembly knows we’re very, very much into our community,” he said.

The cross will be the first phase of a project that eventually would include a park and a 4,000-square-foot pavilion. Jackson said he wanted people to come to Janesville to see the new cross and to hold weddings and memorial services at the park.

“As a church, we really love Janesville,” Jackson said. “We will put something there that will be absolutely beautiful for our community.”

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