Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Green Bay's Holiday Display Attempts Create Problems

Things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand with holiday displays in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As previously reported (1, 2), City Council President Chad Fradette put up a nativity scene, and city council invited other religions to place their own displays up as well. Quickly a Wiccan pentacle joined the creche. Today's Green Bay Press Gazette reports that overnight, someone stole and damaged the Wiccan display. Meanwhile, yesterday Mayor Jim Schmitt announced a moratorium on new displays until City Council has a chance tonight to consider proposed guidelines. That angered two people who had brought displays-- a Unitarian Universalist who wanted to put up a peace sign and another individual who wanted to display a decorated cross wrapped in American flag cloth to symbolize the improper merging of church and state. Other proposed displays included ones for Festivus and a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" display. The mayor's proposed guidelines limit the size of displays, provide they cannot contain written words, lights or electronic devices, and require the symbol to be one of a religious holiday celebrated between Dec. 8 and 31.

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, Green Bay City Council voted to leave Fradette's nativity display up until Dec. 26, to impose a moratorium for now on any other religious displays, and to eventually draw up a set of guidelines for future displays. The Council vote was 6-6 with Mayor Schmitt breaking the tie. Schmitt on Wednesday ordered city maintenance workers to move a Christmas tree and wire reindeer next to the nativity display to secularize the display. He said Liberty Counsel advised him that his Santa Claus-and-reindeer display on City Hall's other main entrance was already sufficient to do that. Meanwhile the Freedom from Religion Foundation is talking with possible plaintiffs in order to file a lawsuit. (Green Bay Gazette, Dec. 20).