The village of Alsip, Illinois, is discontinuing its annual holiday tradition after facing threats of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist non-profit. Every year, the community erects a 19-foot cross on its local water tower to commemorate the holiday season — a tradition that has been in place since the 1970s.
However, this year, facing threats of a costly legal battle, Mayor Patrick Kitching is discontinuing the festive display. Using a tactic that it frequently relies upon, the FFRF threatens lawsuits as a means of intimidating communities into removing religious displays from public property — a plan that has, in instances like this one, proven effective.
Not wanting to waste public dollars on a costly lawsuit that Alsip would potentially lose, the mayor made the tough choice to nix the tradition.
“I am very saddened by this and had hoped we would not have to change tradition,” Kitching wrote in a letter to residents and business owners. “However, in these economic times, the village cannot afford to waste any tax dollars on a lawsuit that simply cannot be won.”
FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor commented about the incident saying that her group’s preference is always to choose “education and legislation, not litigation.”
“Towns can’t put crosses on public structures such as water towers because we have separation between religion and government,” she explained.
While Kitching is complying, he certainly isn’t happy about it. Following the announcement, the mayor made it clear that he’s discontented with discontinuing the tradition, saying that the atheists “slapped down” their annual Christmas commemoration.
“They told me an anonymous person complained. I doubt that,” Kitching explained. “I think they [FFRF] were driving down the tollway and saw our cross.”
To avoid future problems, the cross will be replaced with a lighted “holiday tree.” The mayor said that the structure will not be called a “Christmas tree,” as he does not want to have yet another run-in with the FFRF.
“I thought about putting up a 30-foot Grinch, but I couldn’t find one,” he quipped.
(H/T: Southtown Star)