Knightstown removes cross atop town’s Christmas tree following ACLU lawsuit

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KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. – The cross atop the Knightstown Christmas tree is no more. The town council removed the cross Monday afternoon following a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The ACLU filed the suit last week against Knightstown on behalf of resident Joseph Tompkins. 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. 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.

The town council made the decision to remove the cross  after they said they wouldn't win the court case brought by the ACLU, and they couldn't pay the legal fees.

According to a local business owner, police had to get involved when the council removed the cross because residents were blocking the bucket truck from being able to take the cross off of the top of the tree.

"There was nothing we could do about it," said Aaron Magee, who wanted the cross to remain in place.  "The police didn’t want to take it down, the town workers didn’t want to take it down. They still took it down."

Many people we spoke with in Knightstown 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.

“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.”

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 FOX 59, 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 town released the following statement on Facebook Monday afternoon:

Residents who disagree with the decision to remove the cross say they plan to attend Thursday night's town council meeting to voice their frustration. The council is expected to approve a resolution stating that the cross will not return to the tree.