Wednesday, December 20

Why Does the City Erect Crèches on Municipal Property?

I have thought a long time about this post. I still don't know whether it is a good idea to write it or not. Quite frankly, I don't want my yarmulke nailed to the wall right next to Rabbi Bogomilsky's.

However, every time I pass by the crèche (manger scene) on the civic center steps or the one on flag hill, I get upset. By erecting these displays (or allowing them to be erected), the city is telling me that I really am not welcome here. Sure, I can live here; but just don't get too uppity.

I have no problem with the trees. For that matter, I can deal with (but am still unhappy with) the way that normal life grinds to a halt the day after Thanksgiving and only starts back up after January 1st. Truth be told, I think that the lights are pretty and I do like the smell of pine.

I also don't want to erect an "equivalent display." I neither need nor want to display a series of big, municipal chanukiot. The little menorah in my window is fine for me, thanks.

When it comes down to it, a crèche is just too much and just too in my face. It is overtly religious and Christian, and just does not belong on city property. If it does belong, why doesn't the city just put up a sign that says "Christians Only" at the gates of our town?

Bah, Humbug.


david said...

I agree with you, Aaron -- as an Atheist, it is rather offensive to me, too. The proper place for a nativity scene - or menorah - or any other overtly religious symbols is in a place of worship (church, temple, etc), OR in someone's home. Not on public property.

But I'm also a realist. This particular battle is not worth fighting, as it is a temporary, seasonal event.

WolfPack said...

Do you get equally upset about Halloween decorations?

Treasure State Jew said...


Well, I would argue that Halloween decorations are cultural and fun, not inherently religious.

What's more, I don't see the city erecting any ghoul or goblin displays.

Look, if you want to put a nativity scene on your church lawn, on your lawn, or any other piece of private property for that matter, I would cheer you on for practicing your faith as you want to practice it. It is another thing altogether for religious displays to be erected on municipal property.

The Raving Norseman said...

I can't speak to the display at the Civic Center, but I'm pretty knowledgeable about the Overlook Park situation. In fact, you can blame me for the nativity scene there, if you want. Years ago, when a private citizen asked to add that to the display, the city had a litter of kittens and said no because the ACLU would sue them into next Tuesday. Having an affiliation with the group that administers the tree lights and a known affinity for Googlage, I was asked to track down a list of legal decisions that might support the ability of a private citizen to do as this person wanted. I assembled that list that afternoon, and the next day the city attorney --who hadn't been consulted by the people who said no-- signed off on it. I'm not a lawyer and don't pretend to be, but the city's knee-jerk reaction offended me to the core.

I actually tend to agree with the notion that in-your-face religious displays are crass and better left to private property, but we differ on the legality of it. I don't much care for the one at Overlook Park. But I like even less the idea that people think public property can be used under the First Amendment for abortion protests (of both kinds), anti-war protests, candlelight vigils of any number of stripes, fundraisers for a variety of causes (some quite objectionable to me), but can't be used to illustrate a group of citizens' faith, even though the First Amendment quite clearly states that the government cannot bar religious speech any more than it can endorse it.

Keep this in mind about the Overlook Park display: just like the flag itself, it's administered by a non-governmental body. The lights are bought and maintained by private citizens, and while the city does actually put the lights on the trees (I suspect that has something to do with wanting to control what kind of trucks are on that steep hill and when), the non-profit group shells out a lot of money for the power. It's metered separately. I believe that the nativity scene is metered separately even from the tree lights, and the anonymous individual to whom that belongs pays for the power himself or herself.

Long story short (too late!), the religious scene at Overlook Park display is not a display by the City of Great Falls, and is as protected as a religious broadcast sent over the publicly-owned airwaves.

The Raving Norseman said...

And as if my post weren't long enough, I forgot to point out that even though the city strings the lights on the trees, they do not erect the nativity scene. The owner does that.

a-fire-fly said...

I don't really support having it on public property, but I don't understand the insult or the feeling of not being welcome. My kids sing songs about your religion in school, I find no insult in that. Tolerance goes two ways. I am neither Christian or overly religious, but I have never felt insulted or unwelcome from anothers genuine expression of faith. Including yours.

a-fire-fly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GeeGuy said...

"My kids sing songs about your religion in school, I find no insult in that. Tolerance goes two ways. I am neither Christian or overly religious, but I have never felt insulted or unwelcome from anothers genuine expression of faith. Including yours."


Pun intended. :)

And don't assume I am a Christian either, but I think this whole thing is an offense looking to be taken.

david said...

AJ gave me something new to think about on this issue -- the first time that's happened in many years.


Patricia said...

Park and Recreation employees install the nativity scene and the Christmas tree down at the Civic Center. The nativity scene had been stored at the old barn on the Anaconda Hills golf course that was used by the golf maintenance staff. The State forced the City to condemn the barn because of un-healthy and dangerous conditions. The employees got a new building and Mary and Joseph had to be removed from the barn. I don't know if they found a safe place to stay.

Anonymous said...

Montanafats says about using public property for religious and other such displays!

Well it is over for another year. For the record I do not like Christamas from October to December in the Schools and that includes Hanukkah. While our country's kids fall further behind in scholastic achievement they certainly score well in 'feeling good'! As for the creche, electronic or not and a public property Menorah, they do not belong on public property.

As for the Mother's day exhibition discgrace that the City allows to be put up (Anti Abortion stuff) that too does not belong on City or public property. I suspect that the City Attorney caved on that one too! Show some backbone I say!

GeeGuy said...

I agree with Montanafats. Expressions of opinion on public property must be stopped at all costs!

Anonymous said...

Put this issue on the Neighborhood council 7 agenda, and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

"2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, For the Lord has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up--And they have rebelled against me! 3 An ox knows its owner, An ass its master's crib: Israel does not know, My people takes no thought." 4 Ah, sinful nation! People laden with iniquity! Brood of evildoers! Depraved children! They haveforsaken the Lord, Spurned the Holy One of Israel, Turned their backs (on Him)." -- Isaiah 1:2-4, The Jewish Study Bible, 2004