A group of residents is upset after two central Utah cities denied their recent requests to donate and display nativity scenes on city property.
Members of the group recently attended city council meetings in Salina and Richfield to petition the cities to accept the donation and put up the nativity scenes, which would be done as part of an Eagle Scout project. But in both cases, there appears to be no room at the inn.
“We have presented this to the cities and told them not to be afraid to display them, so we are disappointed that they have not accepted,” said Salina resident Elaine Bonavita, who is the chairman of the Right to Vote Committee which has been actively pushing for the nativity scenes to be displayed.
Both city councils unanimously chose not to put up the nativity scenes for various reasons, but mostly based on advice from a city attorney.
Salina allowed a small nativity scene to be displayed by residents at the city building last year, but this year they don’t think it can be done.
“Our decorations are already set up at our building, and we decided this year was not the time to do it since we really have no room for it under the circumstances,” Salina Mayor Jim Reynolds said. “So we went ahead and said no for that reason and for the fact that our attorney advised against putting one up, and nobody questioned that.”
But members of the Right to Vote Committee say they aren’t buying the small amount of space argument. To them it has more to do with the backbones of the city leaders.
“It’s a lack of Christian courage,” Bonavita said. “Other towns have them up in public places. Why can’t Richfield and Salina? It is a lack of Christian courage.”
In the petition given to the cities, the group lists Lynch v. Donnelly, a U.S. Supreme Court case, which they feel shows the constitutionality of publicly sponsored Christmas displays. They also list a national public interest firm which they claim is willing to represent any city pro bono if called upon to help.
Richfield Mayor Brad Ramsay said his city hasn’t allowed nativity scenes in the past, and the city respects the legal advice of its attorney.
“We want to stay out of mixing church and state and always felt like a nativity scene is a personal expression of Christmas and not one the city wants to impose on anyone,” he said.
Ramsay also said that there are several nice nativity scenes throughout the city at private residences or businesses.
Bonavita said the nativity committee plans to seek out other cities in hopes of putting the nativity scenes on display.
“Christmas has been important to me all my life,” Bonavita said. “The world has commercialized it, so every year I try to do something special for Jesus Christ. This is a constitutional right we have.”