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The famous Three Wise Men atop Newaygo Elementary School9&10; News / screenshot

NEWAYGO, Michigan, December 5, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Citizens of a small Michigan town are not giving up their Christmas traditions without a fight.

A display of the Three Wise Men atop Newaygo Elementary School has attracted the ire of a “civil rights” group. The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) is demanding that the school district remove the Three Wise Men from the roof of the public building.

Not everyone in town agrees.

Amy Postma told Eastern Michigan’s CBS affiliate “9&10 News” that the figures are a symbol of Newaygo.

“It’s just a symbol of our community,” she said. “It’s always been there and we love it.”

She said that objecting to the Three Kings on a school roof was as ridiculous as saying you can’t have Santa Claus in a bank taking photos with children.

“You can’t just take away something that we’ve always done,” she added. “It’s not harming anyone, it’s not hurting anyone, so live and let live.”

The flat wooden figures have been a part of the town’s Christmas landscape since the 1940s, and the son of one of the former Newaygo students who built them has suggested a compromise.

“IMO [in my opinion], they should be allowed to remain,” wrote Lowell Godfrey on one of two posts about the controversy on the MACRA activists’ Facebook page, “so long as the schools add a wider variety of religious symbols.”

“My dad helped build those in shop class in the old school back in the 1940's,” he added. “So….IMO, the school should have a class on world religions and as a project for the class have students create more artwork (like those 3 Wise Men), representative of other religious groups, and add them to the display.”

According to the Friendly Atheist blog on Patheos, the Newaygo Public Schools superintendent objected to removing the display on the grounds that it is not meant to be religious.

On a now-deleted Facebook post, Dr. Peggy Mathis apparently wrote: “Newaygo Public Schools has a legitimate secular purpose for the display. We are both upholding the community’s tradition of celebrating a public holiday and attempting to point towards the importance of wisdom, knowledge, and open-mindedness.”

Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta reports that Mathis said that the wise men have been described as the “scientists of their time,” that “wise men” are part of many religious traditions and that there is no evidence that the “wise men” were Jews or Christians.  

“We are in no way seeking a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion,” Mathis added. “To my knowledge no one has been led to faith, or driven from faith, by this display that has spanned more than half a century.”

“To my knowledge there is no case law that prohibits the depiction of three non-Christian middle eastern men on camels that are seeking wisdom. Our display has a legitimate secular purpose,” she repeated.

“It is my hope that we all will continue to stress the importance of seeking wisdom, knowledge, and open-mindedness during this entire holiday season.”

However, the “civil rights” group, which responded to a complaint by a single resident, is adamant that anything resembling a Christian symbol should be removed from public property.

MARCA leader Mitch Kale told CNN that the display is, “in essence,” a nativity scene.

“We’ve asked the school to remove what is in essence a nativity scene, from the top of the school, and from school property,” he said. “If this were on private property it wouldn’t be an issue.”

Kale, whose group has worked to remove religious icons from public land in other Michigan towns, published his objections on Facebook. However, this attracted a storm of comments in favor of keeping the town’s traditional figures. There are also several comments expressing hatred for Christians on both the first and second MACRA posts about the Three Wise Men.  

The activist, however, is sure that the townsfolk will forget all about their beloved Three Wise Men, claiming that nobody in a nearby town complains today that their 70-year-old nativity scene was removed.

“We understand that the situation sometimes will make people upset,” Kale told CNN. “But just like in Grand Haven, where their nativity scene has been up for 70 years, that’s now been gone for five years, the city council voted to remove it. And no one complains about it now.”

Newego is located 32 miles from Grand Rapids. In 2010, the population was just under 2,000.

To support School Superintendent Peggy Mathis in her wish to preserve the town’s tradition, contact:

Dr. Peggy Mathis
Newaygo Public Schools
360 S. Mill St.
PO BOX 820 Newaygo,
MI 49337