558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
City Hall nativity scene causes a stir
A complaint from an area resident stated that to host the scene breaks the law by promoting or showing preference for one religion
The nativity scene shown here was placed outside the front door of Prineville City Hall. It remained in that location through the Christmas weekend.
December 27, 2010
The future of the nativity scene outside the doorstep of Prineville City Hall is left in doubt as a complaint has challenged its current location.
The City of Prineville received a letter on behalf of a “concerned area resident” from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization, earlier this month protesting “the erection and maintenance of a nativity scene on City property.”
The letter states that it is unlawful for the City to host the nativity scene because its depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ singles out or shows preference for one religion.
“The Supreme Court has ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property,” the letter stated, citing Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter as well as Lynch v. Donnelly.
FFRF went on to point out that there are ample private and church grounds available throughout a community to erect religious displays, but they assert that the entrance to a government building is not an appropriate location.
“Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship,” the letter concluded.
While the letter was received prior to Christmas, the Prineville City Council directed the City to leave the display through the Christmas weekend.
According to City Councilor Steve Uffelman, the City has displayed the nativity scene each year since he can recall — at least the 1980s.
“I like having the nativity scene up,” he said. Nevertheless, he too questions the location.
“I wouldn’t have put it up at City Hall,” Uffelman said. “I think that there ought to be another location for the nativity scene in the future and I think that location should be available for other religious displays.”
Mayor-elect Betty Roppe said the City Council would have likely opted to remove the display before Christmas had the complaint been made in person.
“If we had local people that were concerned about the nativity scene, they should have approached the City Council,” she said. “And nobody has done that. If they had, we would have taken action.”
Although the nativity scene was left up through Christmas, it may not be displayed there next Christmas. City Manager Steve Forrester said the topic will likely appear on the next Council agenda in mid-January.
“I think what we need to look at is changing the venue,” he said.
Whatever location is chosen, the FFRF insists it not have any association with a public body.
“If it is public property, it is an impermissible endorsement of religion,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “They (the City) should divest themselves of this Christian display. They should find a private location.”