Knightstown faces lawsuit over Christmas tree

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KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. – Knightstown residents say the Christmas tree on the square has lit up the downtown area for as long as they can remember.

Now, the town is facing a lawsuit, and the cross at the top of the tree might not be there much longer. The ACLU recently filed the suit against Knightstown on behalf of resident Joseph Tompkins.

On Friday evening, people living and shopping near the tree all said they were shocked one of their neighbors, in a town of 2,000, would take such steps.

“You gotta sit down and talk about it before you file the lawsuits,” said Knighstown resident Kevin Richey.

Richey says he believes Tompkins is entitled to his opinion, but he wishes he would’ve worked it out before taking legal action.

In the case filling documents, the ACLU presents Tompkins’ issue with the cross on top of the tree.

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.

“A couple weeks ago they had a crowd here,” said one of Joe’s relatives, Mark Tompkins. “Everybody was here. Everybody was fine with it. But now you’ve got one person, you know, out of everybody.”

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.

Mark Tompkins says he doesn’t buy that seeing the display is hurting Joe in any way.

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

In a statement to FOX59, Joe maintains that being offended is not the issue, the First Amendment is. Joe says that amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of religion and Knightstown’s government display does just that.

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

A man who lives next to the display and looks at it from his window, says the town can solve that by giving him his money back.

“I think we can find people in this town that can replace that 0.0004 cents to give to him and not have to worry about it,” said Lau Ghioc, who runs a hardware store next to the square.

Everyone FOX59 spoke to says they support the town fighting this legal battle. If the cross has to come down, Mark Tompkins and others have a solution for that too.

“He can take it down and I tell you what, I’ll park this car here until Christmas Day with three crosses on it,” said Tompkins.

To show the town’s support for the cross no matter the outcome, Patricia Hutson and her husband will be handing out crosses Saturday by the tree for any Knightstown residents who want them.

Town officials also haven’t gotten back to us about how they’ll respond to his request to remove the cross and pay for damages.