Holiday

Town Faces Controversy Over Nativity Scene Display After Some Residents Claim Discrimination

by Kim Wong-Shing

The town of Bethel, Connecticut, just resolved a tense religious debate over the town’s nativity scene.

Bethel has been putting up a nativity scene in the middle of the town green for over 50 years, WTIC reports.

“There is a long-standing policy and procedure in place that allows people to run a craft fair and so on and so forth,” Bethel first selectman Matthew Knickerbocker told WTIC.

Other groups have tried to put up non-Christian scenes or signs, but they’ve never made it to the green. Matthew says that’s because of procedural missteps, like missing paperwork. But organizations like the American Atheists Legal Center claimed that Bethel was discriminating against nonreligious groups.

In response to the accusations, town leaders held a special meeting. They agreed to pass a new procedure that will allow other groups and individuals to erect “some kind of display that recognizes their cultural heritage,” Matthew said.

To qualify, applicants have to live in Bethel, buy insurance for their display, and pass a safety test.

“The town has a moral and a legal obligation to include other cultures,” Matthew said.

The town already has an application from a new group. The sign reads: “This season, no matter what you celebrate or why, happy holidays from your atheist neighbor.”

Town leaders do, however, want to ensure that the new displays aren’t larger than the nativity scene. Fair is fair.

Footage provided by WTIC Hartford

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