As of a few hours ago, I thought the Boca Raton City Council was on the verge of ending the “free speech” forum in Sanborn Square park.
Atheists and a Satanist had placed their own displays there last winter to counter a Nativity scene… only to have their displays repeatedly vandalized. City officials didn’t want to deal with all that controversy again, so it seemed like they were going to say no to all religious displays. At least that’s what the Sun-Sentinel was reporting.
Looks like there’s more to that story. Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan says that, even though third party displays (like the Nativity scene and Satanic monument) will be forbidden this year, the city plans to put up displays of its own.
A Christmas tree, a menorah, a creche and a snowman — but nothing Satanic, Mayor Susan Haynie insisted.
So… generic, Jesus birth religion, Jesus religion, generic.
The thinking behind this, I’m assuming, is that the law obviously prevents an establishment of religion… but if you have a Christian display, a Jewish display, and a couple of other random things thrown in there, it’ll throw everyone off the scent! And, indeed, the law says a Nativity scene may be allowed on government property as long as it’s not the only game in town.
Boca Raton can buy and place a nativity scene, menorah, Christmas tree and snowman without legal repercussion, Haynie said, citing advice from the city attorney.
“Hopefully that will be satisfactory,” Haynie said.
Legally speaking, she may have a case. There’s Supreme Court precedent to that effect.
But there’s a caveat she’s ignoring.
The reason for why the city is making this decision suggests the real goal is to keep Satanists and atheists out of a public space — and that may be grounds for a legal discrimination case.
City leaders say the move would relieve the burden of policing the displays.
“When (police are) being called to respond to these vandalism issues, they’re taking officers away from other people who might need it,” said Chrissy Gibson, city spokeswoman. She added that the decision to place city-owned displays is not yet official.
“We’ll hear from the public (at the meeting),” Gibson said.
To put that another way… someone vandalized a Satanist’s display, therefore the city will punish the Satanist.
If they’re going to reward the vandal like this, why not give him a medal? This is absurd. If police officers can’t respond to acts of vandalism, then they should work to prevent that from happening, not punish the victims.
Preston Smith, the Satanist who put up that display last December (over and over and over again), was quick to renounce the planned religious display, and he has support from the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
“This is ‘Discrimination 101’ ” Smith said.
“Undeniably, this proves they want a Judeo-Christian theocracy. And all other viewpoints are considered suspect,” Smith said. “I’d encourage atheist activists to fight the continued assault on our first amendment rights.”
The stir caused by last year’s display and exclusion of Satanism from city-sponsored displays would lead any court to believe the decision is discriminatory, Seidel said.
Said Seidel: “That is a lawsuit that has been lost many times over.”
The city is making a huge mistake. If law enforcement can’t protect the open forum, then the forum should be closed to everyone, not just the groups the mayor doesn’t like.