RAVENNA, Ohio, December 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Dozens of area Christians gathered over the weekend outside the local courthouse in the Ohio town of Ravenna to protest local politicians’ surrender to activists who demanded a nativity scene be taken down.
Last year the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a group that agitates against benign religious displays on public property, sent Ravenna’s mayor Frank Seman a letter demanding the removal of a wooden nativity scene that had been painted by a local woman, the Record-Courier reports.
“Cities are allowed to celebrate the secular aspects of a holiday, they just can’t put up anything related to the religious message, because it’s a violation of the separation of church and state,” FFRF legal fellow Chris Line claimed.
Seman agreed, but the creator of the nativity says he didn’t notify her of his decision until ten months later. “This battle isn’t about Christianity,” said the woman, who declined to be identified by the Record-Courier. “This is about any and all religions that have the right to display their symbols of their beliefs on public property without any interference by the government.”
The mayor claims he made the decision not because of the letter, but because other local residents suggested allowing the nativity would violate the U.S. Constitution and potentially risk a lawsuit.
“I’ve had all kinds of people telling me ways to get around it,” Semen claimed. “To me, that’s not the spirit of the law. I’m not comfortable putting the city in jeopardy for a lawsuit. I’m not throwing away city money. It’s just that simple.” He added that he’s spoken to at least six property owners who would be willing to host the scene on their properties instead.
But many insist the scene should be returned to the courthouse. Between 40 and 50 members of Bethel Baptist Church in Ravenna gathered outside the courthouse lawn Saturday evening, facing 20-degree weather (-6 degrees Celsius) to picket the display’s removal.
The crowd sang “Amazing Grace” while carrying signs with messages such as “Wise Men Still Seek Him,” “True Love Was Born in a Stable,” and “Bring the Nativity Back to Ravenna.” At least one participant carried his own miniature nativity scene. Bethel pastor David Ballert said the group also demonstrated on December 1, and planned to do it again on December 22.
“I’m here with my people because we care very much about the Lord Jesus Christ, and we just want to further His name,” he explained. “I believe Ravenna is a great town. I believe that a town deserves to have Jesus Christ in it, and we sure would like to be able to take part in getting the nativity scene back to the Ravenna courthouse.”
The Record-Courier notes that the group also waved and wished “Merry Christmas” to people passing by, who returned the favor with friendly responses and car horns of approval.
“Everybody driving by seems to be saying ‘hello’ to us and ‘Merry Christmas,’” Ballert said. “I have no doubt the people are behind what we’re doing here.”
The religious liberty firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has previously noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld nativity scenes on public property, recognizing an “unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.” Such displays, the Court ruled in 1984, merely take “note of a significant historical religious event long celebrated in the Western World.”
The ruling also pointed out that Christmas is a recognized national holiday, and nativity scenes depict the “historical origins of this traditional event.”
Other Ohio towns have also seen their nativity scenes challenged, the Christian Post reports, with varying responses. FFRF succeeded in getting Dover to move displays of the nativity and Ten Commandments to private property, as well as to agree to paint over a Latin cross in a choir display near city hall.
But Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska defied FFRF’s challenge to a nativity at the city square, noting that the town is willing to erect displays for other faiths, as well.
“I posed the question to the law director how we should respond,” Broska explained. “As long as it’s part of a much wider-ranging display, which ours is, we’re okay. We didn’t use any municipal funding for it.”