A group of firefighters is unhappy with a town policy they say disrupts a holiday tradition stretching back nearly 70 years.

A group of firefighters is unhappy with a town policy they say disrupts a holiday tradition stretching back nearly 70 years.


Firefighter Gregg Lewis appealed to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night, asking for permission for the Fire Department to erect an illuminated cross on top of the hose tower at the Central Street station.


A holiday display policy adopted by the town in 2004 stipulates that overtly religious symbols, such as a cross, Star of David or crescent, cannot be displayed on town property. Seasonal and less religious items, however, such as a Christmas tree or menorah, are permitted if approved by the town.


"Signs of the season are fine," said Selectmen Chairman Andy Porter. "But a cross is a symbol of religion versus a symbol of a holiday."


Additionally, displays can only be set up for a designated amount of time and must be erected, maintained and removed by their sponsors.


Any request to put up a holiday display must be submitted in writing four weeks in advance, Porter said. He noted that Lewis, who said he represented a group of Holliston firefighters, merely asked the board in the public comment section of Tuesday's meeting.


The policy came as a result of a 2003 lawsuit against the town by Rabbi Mendy Kivman of the Chabad Center of Greater Milford. He requested 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 The suit was withdrawn after officials allowed Kivman to set up the menorah.


Porter said the policy was crafted after what the U.S. District Court judge told him about religious and seasonal symbolism.


Town firefighters say the cross atop the hose tower - which was accompanied by a menorah, Christmas tree, plastic Santa Claus and wreath - was a town tradition for about 70 years and they aren't trying to offend anyone.


"We all miss it, just as we all miss our childhood memories of Christmas," said volunteer firefighter Chuck Clapham. "We think it's part of the history of this department and the town."


Clapham said he did not know of anyone in the department who opposed putting the cross back up. There is one volunteer firefighter in Holliston who is Jewish, members of the department said.


Chief Michael Cassidy said the cross in question was handmade by a former Holliston firefighter. It is about six feet tall and has 28 60-watt bulbs attached to it.


The cross was first erected in the 1930s, when the station was new, said Fire Lt. Mark Dellicker, a volunteer at the department for the last 20 years.


"It's more of a shame that the tradition has been broken," he said. "I think all these old guys that kept it going - if they were alive they would be heartbroken to see that we let it go."


In 2005, after rules about holiday displays were put in place, the cross and menorah appeared at the top of the hose tower. They were removed after a resident complained.


Clapham said the chief and the Board of Selectmen were giving in to political-correctness at the expense of town tradition.


"I think they are cowards," he said. "We always took great pride in putting that up there. I want the cross back. Otherwise, I'm not paying my taxes."


Citing a case in North Andover, where a rabbi is suing the town because of a policy stating that holiday displays can only be set up for one day, Porter said the town simply cannot afford any more controversy, or another lawsuit, for that matter.


"We're looking at the possibility of having to lay off police officers and firefighters," he said. "We can't afford it."


MetroWest Daily News writer Kendall Hatch can be reached at 508-626-4429 or khatch@cnc.com.