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A town's policy against a public nativity scene has prompted a First Amendment standoff

Conservative Review

After the city of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, broke with previous tradition and barred a religious organization from placing a Nativity scene on public property earlier this year, local residents and business owners have responded by putting up their own.

Last year, the city ordered a local Knights of Columbus council to remove a Nativity scene it had set up near the city's boardwalk after the city received a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League that the display wasn't inclusive of other religions. In November, the city maintained its position on not allowing the display, with Mayor Paul Kuhns saying that "the city policy is not to have religious displays on public property or city property."

"It's just sad that it's been such a part of Rehoboth and now we can't have it," Kathleen Murphy, an area resident, told DelmarvaNow.com in November.

While some in the area have responded with prayers in protest of the policy, the Delaware Cape Gazette detailed Tuesday how locals have responded by putting up their own Nativity displays. The story says there are at least 10 businesses and residents who have done so. And keep in mind: This is all going on in a city with a population of just over 1,500, according to Census Bureau data.

One of those displays, the story notes, travels around the city in the back of Mike Pichola's pickup truck. Pichola told the outlet that he normally puts the Nativity scene up in his front yard, but brought it to Rehoboth Beach as a response to the city's situation.

"It's just a shame," he told the newspaper. "We're devout Christians, and this is the time of the year to do it."

Beyond the protests, the city's policy has also prompted a constitutional challenge.

The First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom legal nonprofit, says that the city's policy "is a clear violation of the First Amendment."

"City officials either have terribly wrong information or such animus toward religion and people of faith that they would rather break the law than allow a Nativity display at Christmas time," First Liberty Institute senior counsel Roger Byron said in a statement. "It is a blatant violation of the First Amendment to ban religious displays from public property."

In a letter urging city officials to change the policy last week, First Liberty argued, "Even without a blanket ban on religious displays, the City's prohibition of KOC's religious Christmas display while allowing a secular Christmas display by another local organization is itself textbook viewpoint discrimination," referring to display of Santa's house put on by the local Chamber of Commerce.

The letter also says that a free-standing creche on the contested spot has been a local Christmas tradition "for as long as most people can remember."

In a response letter obtained by Blaze Media, the city's solicitor defended the policy, citing multiple First Amendment Establishment Clause cases that presented similar scenarios. First Liberty is currently mulling over next steps, according to a spokesperson.

Editor's note: Disclosure: The author of this story is an active member and fraternal officer of a Knights of Columbus council in Washington, D.C. His reportage is his own.

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