City officials of a Tennessee town restored the traditional Christmas story reading at its holiday celebration this year.
After a year of silence, residents of Maryville will once again hear the Bible reading of Jesus' birth at its annual Christmas tree lighting in December. The reading, a 22-year-old tradition in Blount County, was cut last year due to legal concerns.
"We congratulate the city for returning the reading of the Christmas story to its celebration. It is sad when government official[s] censor the essence of Christmas based on misguided opinions of the Constitution," remarked Liberty Counsel, a Christian litigation and policy organization, in a statement Thursday.
Liberty Counsel became involved in the dispute after the city's attorney told Maryville officials that the Christmas reading, taken from the book of Luke, was unconstitutional. Maryville attorney Melanie Davis said she had come to that conclusion based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Maryville Public information Officer Pam Arnett told Blount Today that an individual had contacted the city last year to express concern about the reading.
"The individual was not upset, but was concerned about the separation of church and state," Arnett told Blount Today.
However, Liberty Counsel Founder Mathew Staver met with Maryville city officials and asserted that the reading is a protected free speech. Banning the reading, he argued, would be unconstitutional.
Staver explained that this case was the result of a misunderstanding of the Constitution. Though the event is sponsored by the city and county governments, the readings are presented by Broadway United Methodist Church.
Staver's organization sponsors the Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign, which seeks to educate government agencies and privately-run companies about legal ways to celebrate the holiday.
He noted that sometimes Christmas celebrations are banned due to opposition to the Christian faith more than anything else.
"It's not against Judaism or Islam," he highlighted. "It's against Christianity."
Liberty Counsel was able to resolve the Bible reading in Maryville without resorting to legal action. If the reading had not been reinstated, then Staver and Maryville residents planned to apply for permits to hold a private event where the reading could take place.
Last year, Maryville resident Samuel David Duck read from his own Bible to a crowd of 20 people during the town's Christmas tree-lighting celebration.
This year's tree lighting is scheduled for Monday, December 6. Broadway will once again be reading the account of the birth of Christ.