Five atheists have filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the building of a 100-foot cross at the publicly owned site of Pope John Paul II's Sept. 11 mass in Miami's Tamiami Park.
The suit also wants the court to order the Dade County public schools, scheduled to be closed to students for the pontiff's visit, to hold classes that day.
"To some of our members, the cross is like a swastika. It is a religious symbol and has no place on public land," said John Vinson, attorney for the Society of Separationists, whose members filed the suit.
The Dade County School Board canceled classes the day of the mass because, they said, many roads would be closed to provide security for the pontiff and students would not be able to get to school.
In 1979, the atheist group, headed by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent John Paul II's Mass on the Mall in Washington.
The current suit may have a problem because the local atheists do not have a Florida lawyer and Vinson is not licensed in Florida.
"We had a large number of Jewish lawyers who wanted to take it because the pope had annoyed the Jews," Vinson said. "But now they have made up, and we can't find anybody to touch it."
Elsewhere on the papal tour route, fund-raising is bogging down. Church officials in San Francisco and in Texas say they're several million dollars short of the goals they set to pay for the visit.
In San Francisco, where officials said they are still more than $1 million short of their $3.3 million goal, some archdiocese fund raisers have blamed the political fallout over the pope's visit in June with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who is accused of involvement in Nazi war crimes.
Authorities in Texas said they have reached a total of $1 million toward their goal of $2.5 million. The pope's 10-day visit to this country is estimated to cost $20 million.
The pope will visit the tiny town of Fort Simpson in Canada's Northwest Territories at the conclusion of his U.S. tour on Sept. 20, authorities said.
The four-hour stop to the frontier town 300 miles south of the Arctic circle was tacked onto the end of the U.S. tour at the pope's request. During a Canadian tour three years ago, bad weather forced him to cancel a scheduled stop there.