A Wisconsin-based group that opposes the blending of church and state told Alsip officials that a cross used in the village's Christmas decorations could be seen from space.
Alsip Mayor Patrick Kitching told Patch on Monday that the Freedom from Religion Foundation's asked the village remove a cross, which has been stored on top of the West 119th Street water tower year round and lighted every holiday season for almost 40 years.
A letter sent in 2011 threatened to sue the village if it did not comply with the foundation's request. According to the mayor, the group complained that the Alsip's Christmas decorations could possibly be seen from space.
"They tried to get me to take it down last year and I just ignored them," Kitching said.
The cross has been used by Alsip since 1973 as part of the village's municipal Christmas —until last week. Alsip removed the cross and is now looking at an alternative decoration for the water tower at West 119th Street.
Mayor Patrick Kitching says he is shocked that anyone would be offended by the use of the cross and that he's never heard anyone take offense to it appearing on the tower.
"Nobody has ever complained about it. They’ve never even commented on it," he said.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation contacted the village in December of 2011, claiming the cross was a symbol of Christianity. Its prominence on public land violated of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which the foundation argues strictly prohibits government endorsements or support of religion. Other interpretations of the First Amendment hold that government can promote religion so long as it doesn't show favoritism.
Now, the village's water department is working on a replacement decoration, which is likely going to be a homemade Christmas tree.
The Alsip mayor said he didn't want to spend taxpayer money on a legal battle that was likely unwinnable. Rulings have consistently favored those who have brought court cases against municipalities displaying religious imagery on public land or property.
"No court of final resort has ever upheld the government's permanent display of a Christian cross on public land as constitutional," the foundation's letter to Alsip states.
Patch Facebook fans let us know what they thought of the situation:
It is not possible to take Christ out of Christmas. You will find him in all sorts of services and celebrations at our many Christian churches here and around the world, including the church I serve as pastor, Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn.
We do, however, live in a wonderfully pluralistic society. One of the best ways to honor Christ is to respect all our neighbors no matter what their faith. I am quite sure that is what Jesus would do.
So go to the church of your choice this Christmas where you will find Christ alive and well and full of love!
I grew up in Alsip. My dad worked part-time with the Village. He knew the guys who first put the Cross up on the new Alsip water tower. Alsip has always been proud of the water towers and the Cross. The Cross on the water tower during the holidays was seen for miles. It was a welcoming light seen by 294 travelers. I will take it, mount it high on my house and light it bright to celebrate Christmas. No Lawyer Paper Bully will remove my Christmas Joy.
And Palos Patch reader Shari Cartwright Schmidt threw out these thoughts:
It's not constitutional to only display one religion's symbols. It's the reason so many holiday displays are multi-cultural. If we're going to tolerate one then we need to tolerate all. It's the basis of religious freedom -- not just your favorite, but all of them.
Hopefully they'll keep the star atop the water tower in their efforts to celebrate Christmas, not the holidays, but Christmas!
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