Fort Collins Decides Colored Christmas Lights OK

Colored holiday lights, Christmas trees and wreaths will stay.

The Fort Collins Museum will add a multicultural display and the debate over appropriate city holiday displays will move forward.

By a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the Fort Collins City Council rejected key recommendations of a citizen task force in adopting a plan that combines some task force suggestions with current city policy and some new wrinkles.

The hybrid plan allows for colored lights and Christmas trees and wreaths on the exterior of city buildings and other city property, but allows for only secular displays and messages in building interiors. Religious and cultural symbols are allowed under the plan at locations other than the museum but only if part of a larger, educational piece of artwork.

The new holiday display policy also stipulates the addition of a cultural display on or around museum grounds that could include nonsecular symbols.

The policy doesn’t take effect until next year and does not include Old Town Square.

Council member Wade Troxell, who cast the lone “no” vote, said he couldn’t support the display policy because it didn’t do enough to address the issue of being as inclusive as possible.

“I think we still have a way to go because we didn’t address (how to include) the menorah in city displays (outside of the museum),” Troxell said. “That is still out there, as are other questions about an inclusive Christmas display. I think the museum is fine in terms of offering a comparative religious display but doesn’t capture what the citizens of Fort Collins want.”

Some members of the 15-seat citizen task force, which made recommendations last week to ban colored lights and Christmas tree displays from the exterior of city buildings, called the outcome a victory for Fort Collins.

“I think it’s a positive step forward,” task force member Karen Schwartz said. “My only disappointment is that conversation on broader displays within the interior of buildings to include multicultural (aspects) was not discussed.”

After the task force, which was appointed in August by the city manager to review the city’s holiday display policy and recommend modifications, released its report and recommendations Nov. 6, the council asked for a hybrid version that tied portions of the task force’s work with the city’s current policy.

Primarily, the council stripped task force language that called for white lights and “secular winter symbols not associated with a particular holiday” on most of city property and building exteriors – save for the museum – and replaced it with allowances for colored lights and trees, specifically including Christmas trees.

The council ignored task force suggestions that would have given department directors the ability to erect cultural or religious displays inside city buildings and instead adopted a plan that would allow white or colored lights, secular winter symbols, trees, written secular messages and community artwork.

More than 40 people spoke to council during the public comment period before the vote, with all but a handful of them speaking out against the task force recommendations.

Some said Christmas is a tradition in Fort Collins, and any attempts to limit it through restrictive holiday display policies would be wrong.

“I am pleading with council to afford Christmas the dignity it deserves,” said Neil McCaffrey, adding he didn’t believe attempts to include Christmas in multicultural displays was right. “Don’t lump (Christmas) together with other celebrations, because it diminishes the dignity of the (holiday).”

Mayor Doug Hutchinson, the subject of much criticism over the issue in recent weeks, said the issue has hurt Fort Collins’ reputation and image.

“I think this is a very strong success story,” Hutchinson said after the vote, calling the multicultural display at the museum a positive new step for Fort Collins. “I think there is going to be a residual effect from this, though. The traditional Christmas displays were never in jeopardy, but it came across that way because of misinformation in the media.”

Hutchinson later explained that he meant that it was never the council’s intent to put Christmas displays in jeopardy by forming the task force.

“But, of course, the task force recommendations put Christmas in jeopardy,” Hutchinson said.

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