BELEN, N.M. – Following years of surrendering to left-leaning organizations demanding that they take down religious-themed Christmas decorations, a number of towns across America are fighting back – or simply ignoring the requests.
Belen, N.M., is one such community. In 2015 the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to city officials, warning it that a year-round nativity located in a city park allegedly violated the U.S. Constitution. The atheist/agnostic organization wanted the nativity moved to private property, but a year later, it remains where it’s always been.
“Belen” is Spanish for Bethlehem – the city where Jesus was born.
“Our town was named Belen for a reason, because our founders wanted it to be named after Bethlehem and of course, what happened in Bethlehem was the birth of Christ, which is something we’ve expressed since our founding,” Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova told KOAT last year. “Where does it stop? If we don’t stand up for the nativity scene in the heart of Belen, next will they be asking us to change our name?”
Interviewed this month by the Associated Press, Cordova gave an update on the nativity: “It’s here to stay.”
Cordova’s attitude is similar to that of city officials elsewhere.
In Franklin, Pa., the city council voted earlier this month to keep a nativity on public property despite a threat from FFRF. To help guard against lawsuits, the council decided to add some secular symbols near the nativity.
“Publically sponsored nativity scenes on public property are constitutional, especially when the display includes other secular symbols of the holiday,” said Mat Staver, founder of the legal organization Liberty Counsel, which has offered to provide free assistance to the city if it is sued. “… We stand by the city and will offer legal counsel to any city facing threats from the FFRF or other individuals.”
Staver told AP he is “seeing more municipalities digging in after learning about their rights.”
FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said she doesn’t think “religion or irreligion should be on public property.”
But some communities still are surrendering. Gig Harbor, Wash., received a letter from FFRF and chose not to allow a local resident to put up a nativity on private property, as had been done in past years. That resident, John Skansi, told The News Tribune he was disappointed.
“Putting a Nativity in a public park is a healthy thing,” Skansi said. “It’s a great thing to do. It is part of what Christmas is. This is the message we wanted out there.”
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