Town Removes Christmas Tree Cross: Agree or Disagree?

The cross atop the Knightstown Christmas tree was taken down after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a resident:

The suit alleges that the Latin cross “is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, representing the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus.” So if the display is religious, the suit argues, it has no business on town property. The documents go on to say that every day, Tompkins “is forced to come into direct and unwelcome contact” with the cross on top of the tree as he drives through town. This, it says, has caused him “irreparable harm,” which can only be remedied by taking the cross down and paying Tompkins monetary damages.

The lawsuit also specifies that Tompkins doesn’t want his taxes helping light and maintain a religious display on town property.

First off, I think the claim that the cross was doing irreparable harm to the resident (Joseph Tompkins) is just ridiculous.

Yesterday I saw this story and watched a video where they made pretty much the same case against taking down the cross as the article does:

 “There’s a church on every corner here,” said Mark. “There’s a church on every corner. Is he offended by all the crosses?”

This isn’t a good defense, unless you’re only talking about the ridiculous ‘irreparable harm’ part of the lawsuit.

Putting up religious imagery on private property is different than putting it up on public property using government funds.

With that being said, maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age, but I think it a shame that the cross was taken down. I understand that the resident is likely in the right legally, but I just don’t think this was a necessary move.

It might have something to do with the whining tone of ‘irreparable harm’ that has rubbed me the wrong way, which makes me less charitable towards the person filing the suit.

Then again, the town’s response is hardly better:

knight

Memo to Knightstown: You could always have hundreds of crosses lit on private property across town. It’s not like this lawsuit changed your ability to light crosses and put them up on church property etc.

I don’t know. The passive aggressive nature of the response is a bit annoying as well.

So my opinion so far is that legally the resident was likely right, and the town made the right decision to take the cross down, rather than spend taxpayer money fighting a suit they’d likely lose.

However, I think the lawsuit was whiny, petty and not something that really needs to be fought, but like I said, maybe I’m just getting soft.

What’s your thoughts on this story?

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44 Comments

  1. I used to live in a town that had gotten in trouble for putting the ten commandments on one of the government buildings; so they compromised. They took them down off of the government buildings and found the most prominent non-government building in town and put it on that – on the corner of Main and First, I think – so that people coming and going could see them. I think that no matter on what side of the argument you’re on, they’re always going to find a way to do just the same thing – be it the ten commandments on a building or crosses on every single Christian-owned business and house in town. I find that small towns tend to think of themselves as islands of true faith constantly being persecuted by the world.

  2. Does it matter if it is passive aggressive if he is in the legal right? I live about 40 minutes from there and I have been enjoying tolling the comment sections on various news stories (yeah i’m that guy), but the number of people who proclaim “We’ve been doing this for years!” astound me. Just because you have gotten away with infringing on peoples rights for years doesn’t give you the right to keep doing it. The longer you let them get away with it, the more right they think they have to do it.

    • “Does it matter if it is passive aggressive if he is in the legal right?”

      It matters but not in a legal sense.

      ” “We’ve been doing this for years!” astound me. Just because you have gotten away with infringing on peoples rights for years doesn’t give you the right to keep doing it.”

      Yeah, the argument that because you’ve done it for a long time makes it right isn’t a good defense.

      “The longer you let them get away with it, the more right they think they have to do it.”

      Most of the time I think this way as well.

      Not sure why this case makes me not care. It just seems so harmless or like I said, maybe because the plaintiff just sounds so whiny.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. It sounds like he was looking for a bit of attention, and by golly, this was the way to do it. Whiney, oh yes. This has nothing to do with infringing on anyone’s rights, it’s got everything to do about behaving badly.
    And as someone said, does that mean one has to remove all the crosses on all of the churches in town??? Ban cross-wearing jewelry, and any church that actually claims to be a church, because after all, that does announce and proclaim Christianity in a public place, yep.
    I could see being offended by a swastika in a public place, that almost makes sense. And once someone discovers how easy it was to get this removed, what about all those Christmas (you should excuse the expression) lights, trees, and other “public displays of religion” all over town? Even in private houses.

    sigh.

    • “what about all those Christmas (you should excuse the expression) lights, trees, and other “public displays of religion” all over town? Even in private houses.”

      That would violate the constitution. You’re allowed to express your religion.

      Legally, the town is wrong here as far as I can tell. Even they know it because they chose not to fight it in court and acknowledged their legal team told them they’d likely lose.

      I just think it’s a meh issue. Not a big deal in my opinion, but maybe I’m just soft now. lol

  4. The fact is they have the ability to put crosses pretty much everywhere else in town, and they do that and it’s fine. When that still isn’t good enough for them, when government has to proclaim their belief and no one else’s, that’s a raised middle finger to anyone who doesn’t want to be part of their herd. It’s oppressive.

    I lived in a very small rural town three years after I deconverted. They weren’t as overtly religious as this one sounds, but I still kept my mouth shut about my lack of beliefs while I was still there.

    As for the ‘harm’ claim, I’m guessing that’s more legal artifact than actual harm. Lawyers will pile on as much as possible just to make the other side work, and courts may not take a case when no one can claim harm. My wife was once subjected to a school sponsored lyceum that was overt proselytizing. She walked out and because she did they weren’t able to use her later as a plaintiff when they wanted to sue about it.

  5. It doesn’t make much sense. If you take the cross off, then WTH take the whole tree down and declare Christmas a normal workday.

    Personally, I just don’t care. Let them have their cross, goodness it’s really nothing we haven’t seen before. 🙂

  6. Why would they remove the cross but leave the (Christmas)tree? Because Christmas began as a religious holiday and is now celebrated by huge numbers of people in a non-religious format. Christmas is now a celebration of consumerism (or the giving spirit, depending on how you look at it) which is not an official religion, so it can be endorsed by the government(?)

    It’s a confusing time for the public. Non-Christians continue to celebrate an originally Christian holiday with their primary symbol being a Christmas tree which Christianity co-opted from pagans celebrating the return of light at the end of winter. So these same non-Christians want to make a big deal of rejecting the Christian cross symbol while accepting the tree symbol.

    Sounds like history repeating itself. Hello, History! Nice to see you again. You thought we were going to learn from you – ha! Nope…

  7. I have lots to say about this….my sister who’s very religious sent me this article. I am so tired of this whiny attitude. Can you imagine the guy driving and craning his neck to see the tree that high up? Think of the other drivers being endangered by him as he weaves around, eyeing the tree he doesn’t want to see. Sorry, but this really angers me. Second point is, if we have to have the KKK and Nazi parades what is the difference in a cross on a tree? When speaking of rights, it means everyone’s rights, the KKK, Nazis, and anyone else. This is America, born out of oppression and religious freedom. Equality. He doesn’t need to drive by or look at it. Maybe he needs to leave this free state and try another country? Maybe a week or so? Just to get a taste of what no freedom is like.

  8. These are my INITIAL thoughts I have not adequately examined & reexamined so I reserve the right to later modify them! LOL 😉

    I agree with you GC that the lawsuit is whiny, knit-picky, etc, and does not demonstrate a spirit of American tolerance and understanding for diversity — which ironically is exactly what the United States is: very diverse religiously. And in MANY other ways. How is/was “irreparable harm” measured?

    But Joseph Tompkins and the ACLU are right. And the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court would back them both regarding government property and buildings. Or would they?

    The 19th century Confederate Flag/Symbol still flies on a number of southern state government buildings and upon state flags: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. Why hasn’t the federal government been able to remove/ban them on government properties? Is it because of money or because it is right or wrong to still fly them today?

    Both symbols represent perceived injustices, violence and death/crucifixion as they do a hope over tyranny. Many Christian churches emphasize a horrifically graphic historical demonstration of an entire Roman torture-crucifixion. Is that the “irreparable harm”… how brutal and bloody it was with a criminal’s flesh hanging off their back then placed on a “cross” for all the public to see?

    • “very diverse religiously. And in MANY other ways. How is/was “irreparable harm” measured?”

      Ugh. To say that this could cause irreparable harm signals to me this person has never actually been harmed. Such an obnoxious thing to claim in my opinion.

      ” Why hasn’t the federal government been able to remove/ban them on government properties? Is it because of money or because it is right or wrong to still fly them today?”

      I’m not sure but if I had to take a guess without doing research, it’s because those are political symbols and not religious ones.

      ” brutal and bloody it was with a criminal’s flesh hanging off their back then placed on a “cross” for all the public to see?”

      I think you just caused me irreparable harm with that description, mate. lol

      • Hahaha! Watch it Sir. I’ll file a counter-lawsuit from my big head with my big gun with my big union faster than you can say “Yee-HAW pardner”! 😉

        I’m not sure but if I had to take a guess without doing research, it’s because those are political symbols and not religious ones.

        Hmm, some/many in Texas have a difficult time grasping the function and concept of “Separation of church & state”. In these parts 😉 all too often it is difficult deciphering the two. In Texas (and the South?) they’re spoken about & “defended” as if one in the same. 😛 (halfway jesting & chuckling)

  9. If he had complained solely on not wanting the cross displayed because it was on council land it is fair enough, however to claim harm and a monetary payout makes me believe this guy is a real wanker.

    If this guy wins a payout only thing I can see is this is going to motivate the dregs of society to do the same thing.

    The only positive impact, if cracking a walnut with a sledge hammer can have one, is the law about displaying religious icons on government property will be taken more seriously by local governments not wanting to pay out on similar law suits.

    • “however to claim harm and a monetary payout makes me believe this guy is a real wanker.”

      Totally agree with this point. He doesn’t deserve a penny. If he were to win, then the cross comes down. Period.

      “The only positive impact, if cracking a walnut with a sledge hammer can have one, is the law about displaying religious icons on government property will be taken more seriously by local governments not wanting to pay out on similar law suits.”

      Yeah, and I can see that side of the argument. It’s one I would have taken a few years ago when Christianity seemed to be ready to encroach on everything it could touch.

  10. Must admit I feel these are the sort of protests that cause Christians to view atheists in a poor light.

    I think atheists are better off letting these matters rest. If atheists want to win over Christians to our cause then this sort of action is, in my view, counterproductive.

    I see Christmas as part of our western culture. My advice to atheists is to enjoy Christmas as a cultural festival. Treat the Christian elements as just like Santa Claus, a myth that can be indulged for a a month or so a year.

    I enjoy Christmas carols, having lost my faith does not remove their joy for me as it now becomes a nostalgia trigger for me, taking me back to wonder of Christmas as experienced when a child.

  11. He should have stuck with the Govt. Property/Taxpayers funds angle. That’s fair and square and I suspect the local Gvt knew this and thought they would try to pull a fast one.They got caught and were obliged to remove the cross. Good!

    The ”irreparable harm” nonsense just makes him come across as a Dickhead and there are enough of those on the other side of the fence.

    One day, the Church will admit they made it up, then we can all have a good laugh, put up a Chrimbo tree with b’zillions of lights and have a good time.

  12. The whole origin of “separation of church & state” comes not from the constitution, not even the declaration of independence.

    And in it’s original context, it didn’t mean what people think it means.

    It doesn’t mean that the government can’t be influenced by religion; it means that religion can’t be influenced by government.

    It first arose in a a letter President Thomas Jefferson wrote to a Baptist Pastor in Danbury Connecticut.

    The pastor had written Jefferson because he was concerned that the federal government might make some laws about how the church must conduct itself.

    Jefferson wrote back, assuring him that wouldn’t happen on his watch, and reassured him that the 1st amendment prohibits the congress from making any law concerning the establishment of religion (the establishment clause) or from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

    If a local group of people mostly agree that they’d like to spend some tax dollars on a cross, and that most people want to see it displayed- that’s not establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    Some people might not like it, but some other people might not like the government spending money on a soccer field instead of fixing the potholes in the streets. You can’t always get what you want and it’s not harming anybody, and there is no fundamental right to have the government never be influenced by religion.

    It just can’t make laws telling what people to believe or how to practice their religion / atheism.

    People don’t have the right to never be disagreed with, even on public land, using taxpayer dollars, just because they have a certain position, religious or otherwise.

    Aggressive activists like this guy claiming irreparable harm are bullies in my opinion.

  13. Pingback: My Final Thoughts on the Knightstown Christmas Tree Cross Lawsuit | Godless Cranium

  14. I also think the “irreparable harm” part comes from the lawyers insisting that they need to put that in as part of their case. Even if the claim for damages is only for a token $1 (as these cases often are) there’s usually specific language that you need to have as part of that claim.

    Should the cross come down? Absolutely. Is this a big enough deal to go to court on? Well, the government should never be in the business of telling citizens what religion is OK, or not OK. There needs to be strict neutrality, and I think we need to push back whenever that line is crossed. Or next year they’ll put up a bigger cross, and the year after a big nativity, with the excuse that “We had a cross up last year and nobody complained!” But I think our complaints always need to be in the direction of “Religious expression is a private matter, not a government one. The cross would be OK on private property, just not on government property. Please move it to a more appropriate place.”

  15. You know I do not think I have seen a cross on top of a Christmas tree before. I have always seen a star as a symbol of the one the wise men followed is this not true?

    I may be wrong because it may be different in the States but the cross was used as a religious statement in disguise of a traditional tree decoration.

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