WHITEVILLE, Tenn. — A national nonprofit for atheists and agnostics is suing the town of Whiteville over its placement of crosses on city property.

A federal lawsuit filed on Friday by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation claims the displays are an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity by the government of this small town about 50 miles east of Memphis.

According to court records, the group first wrote to Mayor James Bellar last December on behalf of a Whiteville resident who objected to a cross that had been placed atop the local water tower several years previously.

When the mayor did not respond, a second letter was sent in March and a third in May. In September the group wrote again, this time threatening to sue unless the cross was removed within 30 days.

Instead, the town removed one arm of the cross as a sort of protest. It also placed two crosses in front of city hall. A third cross appeared on the public sidewalk in front of Bellar's business.

Bellar said Tuesday that he had not yet been served with a copy of the suit but that the town plans to answer it.

The complaint, filed in Jackson, seeks a court declaration that crosses placed on public property violate the First Amendment. The suit also asks for an injunction requiring all crosses to be removed from property owned by the town of Whiteville and banning any future placement of crosses on town property.