Locals weigh-in on debate over Knightstown tree topper

KNIGHTSTOWN — Many things during the holiday season draw questions from little children. About different religions and their customs. About Santa and how he makes his annual flight.

But Shirley Myer said she encountered an inquiry from her 4-year-old son recently that broke her heart; a question from a young and curious mind about a cross-shaped Christmas tree topper and the controversy surrounding it.

Myer, a Hancock County native, her husband and their two children now live in Knightstown and regularly see the evergreen tree in the town square that for years has been topped by a lighted cross. This year, the traditional decor was removed amid a legal battle over whether it was appropriate for the town to honor the holiday with a Christian symbol.

On the same afternoon town officials removed the cross, the Myers tried to explain to their 4-year-old son that their nighttime drives through town would look a little bit different because the cross had gone away.

“And he asked if that meant Jesus went away, too,” Myer said, her voice cracking a bit as she recalled the story.

And in that moment, the Myer family decided to show their children that the spirit of Christmas, and the story behind it, would endure no matter what happened in the town square.

The family decided to build a cross of their own, to place it prominently in the front window of their home.

They remembered having found a tree branch in their yard a few years before; they kept it because of how perfectly straight it was, sure they’d find a use for it some day, Myer said.

They nailed it to another branch and wrapped Christmas lights around it — a symbol to show their boys that Jesus never goes away, Myer said.

Knightstown drew national attention this year after the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the town on behalf of a resident who disagreed with the use of a Christian symbol in the town’s decor.

Joseph Tompkins said he objects to his tax dollars being used to put up or maintain the display or cover the cost of lighting it each night, according to the lawsuit, a copy of which was released on the Indiana ACLU website.

Tompkins argued the town’s choice to decorate the square with a religious symbol violates his First Amendment rights, according to the court documents.

Knightstown town leaders Monday opted to take the cross down from atop their Christmas tree rather than enter a legal battle with the ACLU, the The Associated Press reported.

Dozens of people gathered at the display Sunday to pray for the town, and a few protesters showed up Monday when the cross was removed.

Knightstown officials are expected to pass an ordinance in the coming weeks to bar the cross from being returned to its prominent place on top of the town’s Christmas tree, the AP reports.

Hancock County residents, too, took to social media to share their opinions about the case, many speaking out to show support for their neighbors to the east.

The Myer family’s sentiment was quieter, just a simple cross welcoming visitors to their home — but they hoped the message of faith and love was clear.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.