Hundreds of crucifixes have been erected across an Indiana town in protest after a lawsuit ordered a cross be removed from the town’s Christmas tree because its placement violated the First Amendment.
Residents in Knightstown, about 40 miles east of Indianapolis, launched the cross campaign over the weekend after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the town council Thursday on behalf of an upset resident, Fox 59 reported.
The ACLU’s suit argued that the religious symbol’s placement and maintenance on public property unconstitutionally funded through tax dollars. It additionally noted that on a day-to-day basis, Joseph Tompkins, the resident who the ACLU was representing, was “forced to come into direct and unwelcome contact with the cross display.”
On Monday, town officials removed the symbol as protesters held crosses in the town square below.
“It is with regret and sadness that the Knightstown Town Council has had the cross removed from the Christmas tree on the town square,” the council said in a statement Monday that expressed plans to pass a resolution that would ensure it remains off.
Residents have responded by erecting more crosses.
Residents have reportedly made 600 crosses available to other community members.
Resident Patricia Hutson — who since the decision has made more than 200 wooden crosses to hand out — expressed equal displeasure.
“I just thought we should rebel some way or let him know how we feel,” she told the station, she told Fox 59 News.
Bill Windson, who took a couple of Hutson’s crosses, agrees.
“It looks like the law protects the minority instead of the majority,” he told WTHR.
Photos posted on social media show crosses of every size adorning the town, in windows, lawns and lights.
One cross, that appeared to be outside of a home and on private property, read: “try suing me ACLU” and “try taking this down.”
ACLU Attorney Kenneth J. Falk, who represented Tompkins, said he thinks most of these protesters don’t completely understand why the cross had to be removed.
“I think the reaction demonstrates a basic lack of understanding between the Free Exercise clause, which allows us to post religious symbols on our lawns, and the Establishment clause, which prohibits the government from doing that,” he told The Huffington Post of the First Amendment’s two provisions concerning religion.
I think the reaction demonstrates a basic lack of understanding..."
The ACLU’s mission, he reminded, is to protect Americans’ individual rights and liberties ― that includes Christians’ right to worship and celebrate Christmas.
In past cases, the ACLU has stepped up to defend inmates’ wanting the right to receive Christmas and prayer cards, as well receive communal prayer over the Christmas holiday. They’ve also supported a child who wanted to distribute invitations to their church’s Christmas party at their school.
“But when the government becomes embroiled in celebrating Christmas or any religious holiday as a holy or sacred occasion, it violates our constitutional commitment to maintaining a government that is religiously neutral,” the ACLU’s website states.
As for Tompkins, who WTHR reported has had demonstrators outside his home, Falk said, “he’s hanging in there.”
“I think no one likes this kind of reaction,” he said.
On Wednesday, a post on the Knightstown news and events Facebook page urged residents to “be courteous and respectful.”
“Our town has come together and is standing as one community united (with the exception of a couple of people),” the post continues. “We can still make a stand by placing crosses everywhere, which people are doing.”