Century’s ‘Illegal’ Nativity Scene On Display Again
December 12, 2012
The Town of Century’s nativity scene, which came under attack by an atheist group’s attorney as being illegal, was put on display late Tuesday afternoon in a new home just yards from the Century Town Hall.
Earlier this month, the town declared the nativity scene as surplus property to be sold to the highest bidder after an attorney for the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent letters to the town claiming that a nativity scene on public property is illegal.
The highest bidder for the aging nativity display was $5 from Faith Bible Baptist Church. A bid of $2 was received from the Abundant Life Assembly of God, and Tabernacle Baptist Church bid $1, according to the town’s official bid tabulation sheet.
The nativity display, now owned by the Faith Bible Baptist Church, was erected and lit by church volunteers Tuesday afternoon in front of an abandoned building directly across Highway 29 from the Century Town Hall. The use of the property was donated by owner Don Grant of Century Marine. Electricity for the display is being donated by the neighboring Abundant Life Assembly of God, while Tabernacle Baptist Church donated the wiring necessary to light the display.
“Area churches rose to the occasion,” a press release issued Tuesday by the Town of Century stated. “People from several area churches are taking care of setting up the scene for all to enjoy beginning today.” The press release noted that a copy was being sent to the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
In a July 17, 2012, NorthEscambia.com story about the Century Town Council’s wish to purchase new Christmas decorations, Century Town Council President Ann Brooks was quoted as saying “I believe we all want a manger scene”. Three days later, as a result of that story, Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, fired off a letter and fax to Brooks objecting to a nativity scene on public property.
“We can assure you that not all Century residents want a manger scene,” Seidel wrote. “A local resident brought this news story to our attention in hopes that we would halt an imminent First Amendment violation.”
Seidel claimed that a display consisting solely of a nativity scene, “depicting the mythical birth of the Christian god [sic]“, endorses a single religion and is thus illegal according to the Supreme Court.
“There are ample private and church grounds were religious displays may be freely placed,” Seidel wrote. “Once the council 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.”
Following their July meeting, the Century Council moved forward in purchasing wreaths to adorn utility poles along Highway 29, but a nativity scene was never purchased. The town also, for some number of months, did not respond to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s letters and faxes.
A town official said selling the nativity scene as surplus property to the highest bidder really was not a response to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s assertions, but was due solely to the aging condition of the manger scene.
Pictured top and below: The Town of Century’s nativity scene was sold as surplus property to a local church and put on display Tuesday across the street from town hall. Pictured inset; The Century Town Hall (with Christmas lights) is just across Highway 29 from the nativity scene. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.