War on Christmas in Wadena, City Council to hear from residents today on Nativity scene removal

Photo C
Photo Credit: Wadena Journal
Photo Credit: Wadena Journal

The Fergus Falls Journal reports that the city of Wadena in west central Minnesota is being threatened with a lawsuit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation for displaying a Nativity scene at a local park.  The issue started in January, when Wadena resident Tyler Rud contacted the Foundation with “concerns about the scene” after seeing a picture of it in the local paper last Christmas according to the Wadena Journal.

The January letter from the Foundation read, “Putting up a Nativity scene on public property tells non-believers and non-Christians that they are outsiders in their community, that they are excluded.”  A 1989 case, Allegheny County vs. the ACLU, went to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled a Nativity scene display in a county courthouse unconstitutional.  A more recent 2013 Sixth District Court of Appeals ruling allowed a Michigan town to keep a manger scene as a part of a larger Christmas display, as long as it’s accompanied by enough secular, non-religious objects i.e. Santa Claus and snowmen.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports that Wadena Mayor George Deiss said he planned on exploring options to keep the display in the park.  Previous to last year, the display had been housed in a bandstand in the park, but it was moved out of the bandstand in 2014.  The city administrator, Brad Swenson, shared with Alpha News that the community is supportive of the display and wants to keep it up, but they will need to look at their options at the council meeting tonight where a city attorney will discuss whether they include more secular decorations or whether they “give it away” to display elsewhere.

The Foundation’s most recent legal letter to the city, posted on Rud’s Facebook page, stated that other communities that have refused to remove such displays have “caused continued divisiveness in the community and resulted in the defendants paying the plaintiffs’ legal fees.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is encouraging people to attend tonight’s Wadena City Council meeting at 5pm at City Hall to voice their opinion against the Nativity display and provides a talking point example:

“As a nonreligious person, I urge you not to put up a nativity scene this year in Wadena. Owning and erecting a nativity scene indicates government endorsement of Christianity, which is unconstitutional. It sends a message of exclusion to citizens who are not religious or who belong to non-Christian religions, and a corresponding message to believers that they are political insiders. This is divisive. Please donate the nativity to a private owner and stay neutral on matters of religion.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is threatening similar legal action in Belen, New Mexico, where a creche is displayed in the town whose name means “Bethlehem” in Spanish.