Bethel (CT) Officials Debate Presence of Atheist Sign Next to Nativity Scene November 28, 2018

Bethel (CT) Officials Debate Presence of Atheist Sign Next to Nativity Scene

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the situation in Bethel, Connecticut, where city officials have allowed a Nativity scene to go up on public property while sticking to a policy that rejects other displays due to the “limited space.”

American Atheists sent a letter to the city urging them to rescind the policy, but the local leaders haven’t done that yet. What they have done is reject a banner from AA that says “This season, no matter what you celebrate or why, Happy Holidays! — your atheist neighbors” with the group’s logo on it. They initially said no because some information was missing from the application, but everything’s been fixed now, and American Atheists awaits a response.

That means city officials have a choice: They can say yes to the banner and create an open public forum for all holiday displays without discriminating against non-Christian groups… or they can reject it and open themselves up to a potential lawsuit.

And they’re really struggling to find reasons to reject it.

Town Attorney Marty Lawlor said the sign likely would need to be accepted under the guidelines the selectmen had approved moments earlier. These policies state the displays cannot defame or attack another religion or person.

“I don’t think (the proposed banner) is mean-spirited,” Lawlor said. “I don’t think this is demeaning to anybody. It’s just encroaching on somebody else’s use of the property.”

Residents gasped and groaned when First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker described the sign.

One resident inadvertently gave away the game with his public response:

“It’s the signature that’s bothering everybody, right?” called out Tim Martin, who was part of the group that raised money to replace the old nativity set that had been displayed in the square for decades. “The message is fine, ‘happy holidays.’”

Martin suggested asking the applicant if he would display the sign elsewhere in town, not next to the nativity set.

It really takes some hubris to propose “Separate but equal” as a good policy decision…

Another resident suggested that everyone should just be happy with the Christian display:

“The nativity is actually a very unifying thing,” resident Donna Bowman said. “We could move it, perhaps, to the grounds of a church, but probably it would just be the people that go to that church that see it. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to not have Christmas stripped of all meaning.”

Look at that. A Christian woman thinks everyone would love seeing Christianity promoted by the local government. And she rejects moving it to the front of a church because then she couldn’t shove her faith down everyone’s throat.

You know damn well she’d throw a fit if we were talking about a Satanic or Islamic display.

City officials will vote on the atheist banner on December 4. If they’re smart, they’ll just say yes and then work on a more permanent policy that’s either completely inclusive or bans all third party displays on public property.

I’m not so sure they’re that smart.

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