Despite complaints and threats of protest from an atheist group, a Pennsylvania mayor followed through with his town’s annual Christmas tradition of displaying a Nativity scene in front of the Municipal building on Friday.
Hundreds gathered at Ellwood City’s borough building to support the erection of the Nativity display, which was part of a 50-year tradition of the city, WCN reported. Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Michigan tried to break the ritual, accusing Ellwood City of endorsing Christianity.
The FFRF contended that the city violated the separation of church and state through the erection of the Nativity scene and threatened to protest this week as a result.
But instead of picket signs and angry protesters, dozens of Lawrence County residents gathered at the city hall carrying wooden crosses and signs that read “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” Mayor Tony Court told Ellwood City News. “This, all of this, is about Ellwood City, and as long as we all stay together, this Nativity scene will be here forever.”
This year, other religious and secular symbols surrounded the Nativity scene as well as a result of FFRF’s complaints, including Santa Claus, reindeer, a Christmas tree, snowman, and Hanukkah and Kwanza symbols.
State representative Jaret Gibbons called this year’s display both appropriate and constitutional in a statement.
“As Ellwood City’s state representative, I respect and support the decision of the local elected government officials to erect a holiday display that includes both secular and religious symbols of the holiday season, including the nativity.”
“The people of Ellwood City should be allowed to peacefully celebrate the holiday season in a manner that properly honors the array of religious beliefs and holiday traditions within our community without disruptions from out-of-state influences,” he added.
“For more than 50 years, this joyous time of peace and goodwill has brought people together and made our community strong. It should be permitted to continue.”
Despite FFRF’s opposition to the Nativity scene, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Mayor Court invited the Wisconsin-based group to contribute something to the modified display this year.
The Wisconsin-based group mailed the city a banner that read, “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Court refused to add the banner to the display, however, saying that it violated the First Amendment. “It’s endorsing atheism,” he explained to Express-News. “[The crèche] is a statue. It’s not a doctrinal statement.”
The co-president of FFRF Laurie Ann Gaylor responded, “We wrote this as a repudiation of the manger scene. The manger scene is a doctrinal statement ... If you don’t believe that baby is your lord and savior, according to Christian tradition and hymns sung at this time of year, then you are not saved.”
Court maintained that nothing in the Nativity display challenged or put down what others believed. “I don’t think you can say that about the banner the group is supposed to be sending,” he concluded. “It’s offensive."