A First Amendment protection legal group is threatening to sue a Delaware beach municipality for removing a Catholic church’s nativity scene from the bandstand circle at the town’s boardwalk, according to the Christian Post.
For decades, Saint Edmond Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, set up a nativity scene to celebrate Christmas. But last year, the mayor ordered that it be removed, citing that religious displays were not allowed on public property.
Due to community backlash, the city reconsidered the nativity’s location and sent a letter in earlier this year letting the church know that the display could be set up on a property owned by the city chamber about a half-mile down the road from the Bandstand circle.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization, asked city officials if the scene could be displayed on a grassy area near the Bandstand or in a position closer to the circle. But, the city denied those requests.
The First Liberty Institute, a First Amendment protection legal group, got involved on behalf of the church and the Knights of Columbus by sending a letter to city officials.
“It is well established that the speech protections of the First Amendment extend to displays like the creche,” the letter, written by senior counsel Roger Byron, said.
“Even without a blanket ban on religious displays, the City’s prohibition of KOC’s religious Christmas display while allowing a secular Christmas display by another local organization is itself textbook viewpoint discrimination.”
According to First Liberty, many cities fear violating the “Establishment Clause,” which forbids the government from establishing one religion, by allowing churches to display religious scenes on public property.
“The City has no grounds for claiming its unlawful policy and actions are justified by Establishment Clause concerns,” the letter said. “The U.S. Supreme Court never has found that fear of an Establishment Clause violation justifies viewpoint discrimination. Instead, it has consistently determined such viewpoint discrimination unnecessary and unlawful.”
Byron continued to demand that the city allow the church a place either at the Bandstand circle or adjacent to it on “equal terms and with equal visibility provided the Chamber of commerce for its holiday display.” Should the City refuse, Byron threatened legal action in federal court.
The city told a local news outlet that they have received the letter and sent it to their lawyers for review.
Photo courtesy: Chris Sowder/Unsplash
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.