Selectmen say restriction on Holliston cross stands
Selectmen last night rejected an application from firefighter Gregg Lewis to erect a 6-foot lighted cross on the Central Street Fire Station's hose tower but offered him the chance to put it in front of Town Hall.
"That's not going to happen," Lewis said after the meeting. "I just really think it should be up there (on the fire station). It's been up there forever."
Selectmen Will McColl and Carl Damigella said that when officials drafted the 2004 holiday display policy, they designated the lawn in front of Town Hall as the venue for seasonal displays.
The policy came as a result of a 2003 lawsuit against the town by Rabbi Mendy Kivman of the Chabad Center of Greater Milford, requesting a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court to force Holliston to allow him to erect a menorah at Town Hall. The suit was withdrawn after officials allowed Kivman to set up the menorah.
Because the Town Hall lawn has traditionally served as a public space where individuals or groups can erect displays, Town Counsel William Mayer said it would be more appropriate for the cross.
Mayer said he had been researching Supreme Court rulings before last night's meeting to find a precedent to help determine whether it is, in fact, constitutionally permissible to erect a cross on town property.
Mayer cited a 1995 Supreme Court case - Capital Square Review and Advisory Board vs. Pinette - in which the court ruled the Ku Klux Klan could erect a cross at the Statehouse plaza in Columbus, Ohio, because it was a public forum.
The court ruled that barring the KKK from erecting the cross would be a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
"My opinion is that they have the ability to do that and the legal right to do that," Mayer said about putting the firefighters' cross on the Town Hall front lawn.
The town has only one designated spot for religious displays and they cannot be put up on any other town property.
Damigella said that while there isn't enough time to re-examine the holiday display policy this year to accommodate the firefighters' wishes, the policy should perhaps be redrafted next year to allow displays to be put elsewhere in town, such as the front of the fire station.
"I can feel the same sympathies all of you feel," said Damigella, a former firefighter. "Serving on the Fire Department for over 20 years, I don't know how many times I put that cross up."
Lewis said he most likely would not file another application to put the cross in front of Town Hall and the firefighters would probably put it at the top of a tree behind the station on private property.
The group of firefighters attending last night's meeting were visibly disappointed with the outcome.
"I'm 100 percent behind Gregg," said Brett Morrison, a 27-year veteran of the department. "I'm disappointed. I wish it was going back on the station."
"I knew this was going to happen," said Lewis, adding that while he would like to see the cross atop the fire station, he could understand officials' trepidation, given the chance of litigation that comes with the approval or rejection of a religious display.
"I can see where they are coming from," he said. "And I don't want a dime taken away from this town.
"We are going to need a new ladder truck at some point," he joked.
Kendall Hatch can be reached at 508-626-4429 or email@example.com.