The village of Alsip, Ill., will not display a Latin cross on the village water tower this holiday season after receiving notice from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, that the practice is unconstitutional.
The annual display of an illuminated cross each December on its distinctive water tower brought a complaint from a resident to FFRF last December. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the mayor that the display violated precedent by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois. “The display of a cross on government buildings and water towers has long been found to be a violation of the Establishment Clause. It is shocking that the Village has maintained this practice for so long,” added Elliott.
After receiving no response to its original letter FFRF sent the village a reminder Nov. 6 about the illegality of the cross display on government property. (Click here to read FFRF's letter.)
Mayor Patrick Kitching posted a letter on the village’s website during the week of Nov. 18:
“A tradition for almost 35 years here in the Village of Alsip is coming to an end. You will notice this year our holiday decoration on the West Water Tower (Holiday Cross) will not be erected nor lit. We have an organization out of Wisconsin, Freedom from Religion Foundation, who is threatening a lawsuit for having a holiday symbol that can be construed as a religious decoration. It is considered to be unconstitutional. Other municipalities have been brought to suit regarding this very same issue and have lost. We have chosen not to waste taxpayer dollars to fight a losing battle in court. The holiday cross will be replaced with a different holiday decoration in the future, however, I am not sure this process can be completed in time for Christmas of 2012.”
Kitching added, “I am very saddened by this and had hoped we would not have to change tradition, however in these economic times, the Village cannot afford to waste any tax dollars on a lawsuit that simply cannot be won.”
“While we appreciate the village's decision to stop erecting and illuminating a cross for the month of December, we wish the mayor would acknowledge why this ‘tradition’ was wrong. Our secular government may not endorse Christianity over other religions or religion over nonreligion. Nor may it signal that Christians are favored, at the expense of non-Christians and nonbelievers,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
In years past, the illuminated cross could be seen by heavy traffic on Interstate 294. FFRF learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the village Water Department installs and removes the cross each year.
The original installation of the cross, along with a decoration on another water tower, cost the village $3,200 in 2003.
Click here to read FFRF's Dec. 22, 2011, press release.