Michigan Atheist Goes After Rogue Nativity

A little old lady in Dorr, Michigan placed the 16-inch figures of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in a gazebo in the middle of town, as she reportedly has done for many years. Now a local resident claiming to be atheist is taking offense at the “rogue” display and is threatening the city.

Jeremiah Bannister, who describes himself as an atheist, said the religious symbols have no place in the gazebo, which Township Supervisor Jeff Miling said was constructed with permission by the township on land leased from a private individual by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Bannister is a former pastor, but now calls himself an “unbeliever.” He said he supports the freedom of religious expression, and last spring he helped to clean up the Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church building after it was vandalized with anti-Christian slogans.

Still, he said he objects to “privately owned religious ornamentation on publicly owned property meant to be enjoyed by both the resident and passerby alike, regardless of religious, or nonreligious, convictions.”

Bannister said he contacted township staff, but they said they didn’t know who was responsible for what he called the “rogue nativity scene.”

A local spokesman from the DDA said the elderly woman responsible for the display did seek out and obtain permission to put it there. He expressed confidence that the township is well within the law, which allows nativity scenes on public property as long as they are accompanied by holiday decorations that are not considered religious.

“We have up star lights, winter scenes, all kinds of nonreligious holiday decorations and very little religious decoration,” Miling said.

“I don’t know how Jeremiah Bannister knew the name of the baby because there is no name tag on it … It’s funny, there are all kinds of little figures people put out, but a little baby in a manger offends people.”

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