An Indiana town was forced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to remove a cross from the town’s Christmas Tree, and the townspeople have responded by placing wooden crosses of their own on and around the tree, KMOV (St. Louis) is reporting.
For as long as anyone can remember, the town of Knightstown, Indiana, a community of about 2,000 people some 40 miles east of Indianapolis, has put a wooden cross atop the Christmas tree in the town square. The tree sits on town property and is put there with town funds.
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And for Knightstown resident Joseph Tompkins, that was unacceptable, according to The Indianapolis Star. He got into contact with the ACLU, and last week, they filed suit against the town.
“The cross is the best known symbol of Christianity and Knightstown’s prominent display of this symbol represents an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The first sentence of the First Amendment to the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) is divided into two parts, or “clauses,” according to legal scholars. It’s the first clause, the so-called “Establishment Clause,” that’s at play here.
In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that public Christmas displays, as well as other public displays that involve religion either directly or obliquely, must pass the so-called “Lemon Test.” The Lemon Test, according to the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, says that such displays must meet three requirements: 1) the display must have a “secular” or “legislative” purpose; 2) it must not advance or prohibit religion; 3) it must avoid “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs.
This is a particularly sticky issue when it comes to Christmas displays. These days, Christmas can be seen as a cultural holiday as much as it is a religious one. So a Christmas tree devoid of religious symbolism is OK; but once you add a cross (a religious symbol) to it, it’s going to be seen by some as a religious display.
Back in Indiana, quibbling over legalities isn’t what’s on anyone’s mind. The town, neither willing nor able to pay for a long court battle, instead took down the cross from the town Christmas tree. On Sunday night, as a few people held a protest, a city utility truck was dispatched to take down the cross.
Now, the protest against the removal of the cross has taken on a life of its own. Protesters gathered around the tree are handing out hand-made wooden crosses, giving them to others to put on the tree themselves.
Resident Aaron Magee said he’s alarmed and saddened that Tompkins’ offense at the cross has caused the town to have to take it down.
“One man shouldn’t dictate how the rest of us express our religious freedoms. We have that freedom under the First Amendment.”
Neighbor Lora Newman feels the same way.
“It just made me sick to my stomach, literally sick to my stomach, when I come in and seen that the cross was down, seen that the cross was gone. Where’s my rights to see the cross on the tree when I go down by here?”
Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said it was never his client’s intention to upset the whole town.
“He just feels very strongly about the establishment clause, and people tend to think this is an attack on religion. All this is, is an effort to show the government does not have an establishment of religion.”
Do you believe the Indiana town was right in taking down the cross that was atop their Christmas tree?
[Featured Image by Vaclav Mach/Shutterstock]