558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Holiday displays returning to the City plaza
Prineville resident Bob Orlando has reserved the plaza from CCPRD for the month of December
Prineville resident Bob Orlando has already erected his nativity scene display at the plaza.
December 06, 2012
Local resident Bob Orlando knew he would have to show up early to reserve the Prineville’s city plaza for December again.
He expected someone else to try and book it first and he wasn’t taking any chances. On a chilly Jan. 3 morning, he stood outside the entrance of the Crook County Parks and Recreation District office waiting for them to open for business.
“I had my belly up against the door with a check in my hand at 7 a.m., freezing to death,” he quipped.
Not longer after, the office finally opened and Orlando successfully booked the plaza for another December with the intent of providing local citizens a place to display their holiday decorations – most notably, the nativity scene.
Prior to December 2010, the City of Prineville had displayed a crèche outside the doors of City Hall without incident. That all changed when the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatened to sue the City on the basis that the display violated laws governing the separation of church and state.
The Prineville City Council weighed their options during several ensuing meetings, but ultimately decided the City should no longer sponsor the nativity scene, much to the disappointment of many impassioned citizens.
Following the Council’s decision, Orlando volunteered to reserve the plaza to display his own nativity scene and invited others to provide decorations of their own, secular or religious.
Last December, citizens provided about a half-dozen decorations for the plaza, but Orlando found himself soliciting donations to put on display. This year looks more promising.
“It looks like it is going to be a little more active this year,” he said. “I am not soliciting any donations, but I am getting them.”
Orlando could not say for sure why more people have contacted him this year and shown more interest in decorating the plaza. Some people he suspects simply saw the displays last year and wanted to contribute this time. Others have asked if the FFRF will oppose the display again. As it turns out, they made their first attempt on the same Jan. 3 morning as Orlando — but they were too late.
“Several hours later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s attorney called from Madison, Wisc., and attempted to book the plaza,” Orlando said. “I knew that was going to happen. I just didn’t know it was going to be a couple hours later.”
The FFRF continues to object to the plaza display, and may submit another letter to the City to protest it.
“You are letting the whole plaza be booked by one individual or group,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “That person could say only my stuff goes up.”
Ever since he started reserving the plaza, Orlando stressed that he will welcome all “tasteful winter holiday displays.”
“I am not going to exclude anybody unless the display is obscene,” he continued. That includes a display provided by the FFRF that promotes their organization and proclaims there is no God.
“I told him (the FFRF’s attorney) if he wanted to put a sign up, that was fine,” Orlando said. “Portray your organization in any light you like.”
Despite the inclusive approach, Gaylor still disagrees with allowing citizens to reserve the plaza and determine what people display there. She contends that another person might take a more restrictive approach that favors a particular religion.
“That’s not a policy that is even-handed,” she said.
In spite of the ongoing threat of a legal challenge, Orlando hopes to fill the plaza with something for adults and children alike. He would really like to accomplish that goal in time for the Lighted Christmas Parade this Saturday evening.
“I want to have everybody who is going to be there present at the night of the parade.”
When Orlando first volunteered to reserve the plaza, he did not plan to maintain his leadership role in subsequent years. Since then, the growing support and interest he has encountered has changed his mind a bit. In fact, he will probably spend another freezing morning with his belly against the door.
“I’ll do that again,” he said with a smile. “That’s only one day out of the year.