The above photo shows the controversial removal of the cross from atop a Christmas tree on a public square in Knightstown, Indiana this week.
The controversy swirling around the tree and that cross is just the latest in a long series of such events involving religious symbols on public property…nothing new to see here, but I feel compelled to speak on this one because it hits pretty close to home. I have a lot of friends and family in that area since my wife grew up there. Consequently, I have been seeing a lot of news about this popping up on my social media feeds. Many people are outraged that the complaints of one citizen and the threat of a lawsuit has forced the town council to remove the cross from atop the tree. There is anger and disbelief that one person can “ruin” things for all the others.
Before I go a sentence further, let me issue this disclaimer. I understand the upset feelings. It doesn’t “feel” right on the surface. I understand that there have been displays such as this on the very same spot for years without incident. To a Christian, the sight of the cross coming down feels like a betrayal. I get all that. But I am here to point out what many don’t seem to be getting.
Our Constitution is designed specifically and intentionally to protect that one lone dissenting voice. Our Constitution protects the rights of the few, or even the one, against the will of the many.
When it comes to religious symbols in public squares in a mostly Christian small town in Indiana, that becomes very unpopular. But that’s ok. That’s America.
The tree itself is not actually a religious symbol (in fact, it originated as a pagan tradition and was later adopted by Christians) therefore, Christmas tree displays on public property are not really the source of much controversy. However, there can be no mistaking the uniquely Christian symbolism of the cross. When the lone dissenting voice protested the cross atop the tree, he was standing on firm legal footing and the town council knew it. They had no choice but to remove the cross and they did the right thing, even if it offends you, or me. The Constitution does not protect us from being offended.
Here is where it comes down to the nitty gritty. If you strongly believe the cross should be allowed to be displayed on public property and you also support the 1st Amendment, then you have to be ok with other displays as well.
If the cross is allowed to stay atop that tree, then you must be alright with this menora being displayed on the square for Hanukkah…
And you must be ok with this Islamic symbol being displayed on the courthouse lawn during Ramadan…
And if the Church of the Flying Spagehtti Monster (yes, it is a real thing) feels like slapping this lovely display up next to your Christmas tree on the town square, then you must allow it.
But this is a Christian nation, you say! I say, you are partly right. It is a Christian nation…and a Jewish nation, and an Islamic nation, and a Hindu nation, and an atheist nation…you get the point. It is all right there in the very first part of our beloved Bill of Rights.
Many in Knightstown have “taken up the cross”, as it were, to show support for their cause by displaying crosses all over town on private property. To them, I say bravo! That is totally within your rights and a very appropriate and American response to this situation. You have, in the process, spread your message much more effectively than a single cross on a single tree on a public square ever did.
I just hope that this situation also spreads more understanding about what the 1st Amendment really means.
This land is your land, this land is my land…this land is his land and her land and yes, even that guy’s.