I had a call from a good friend today who told me that this blog was too "sterile" on relating the events of the Nativity &, as a result, it needs to be more detailed to explain the matter. Then another gentleman accosted me today with a rather vengeful attitude thinking again this whole matter of "taking down the Nativity" is my fault.
I will repeat again: I did NOT file a personal complaint against the city. I did NOT file a lawsuit to take down the nativity. I do NOT want the nativity removed.
How more clearly can I say it?
One particular individual raised the question as to legality of the city owning a nativity display & placing it in such a way that gives the impression the Mayor's church was getting a special favor. If you have ever met this lady, you would understand why she would not be the first choice to speak to the city about the issue. She is a Yankee. Really, she is a nice lady but it would best be left to a more moderate interaction for our Southern senses of grace. I still call her a dear friend.
The issue is very simple: tax payer money purchasing a religious display & placing it in a distinct location that gives the impression there is a Most Favored Religion & Church. That is the issue. Nothing more. She never once asked that it be taken down. No one locally has asked that the display be taken down. The whole idea of "removing the display" is patently false.
Now let's stop right here: everyone has the right to protest & have an action of government reviewed by the legal process. Everyone. No one is exempt from the legal process. Right or wrong, everyone has that right.
The local chapter of Americans United does not involve itself in protests or lawsuits or that kind of stuff. We educate & discuss ways to improve things, not destroy or divide. We meet & discuss issues regarding faith of many traditions & in all parts of the world. We discuss how education is handling new problems with increased numbers of religious minority students. We discuss how Catholic students here in Paulding County are regularly accosted & told they will "burn in hell for praying to Mary." Those are the issues.
Because the local chapter believes the issue may be legitimate, the entire chapter agreed unanimously that it needs to be addressed. The chapter agreed that right or wrong, the appearance is that tax payer money was endorsing one particular faith. It was decided that since I have an office in town, I would be the logical one to mediate on behalf of the chapter & this lady in particular. Repeat: mediate. Be the peace maker. Try to solve this issue so it didn't become a nightmare.
The city manager is, I believe, a good & honest man. He was most gracious. After explaining the issue, he didn't seem to want to work something out. I offered to buy the nativity to make it completely legal & remove any & all questions about the display. He said he would look into the matter & get back with me.
No names were mentioned, & for good reason. People were afraid that honest disagreement will result in an actual persecution, especially on religious matters. From what has happened to me, I think they are right.
After a week of no response, the chapter agreed as a whole that the matter needs to be referred on to Washington where a more "legalized" reason could be sent to handle this matter quietly. Again, at no time did anyone ever say they wanted the display to be removed, but to get it privatized to resolve the issue. No one locally ever even hinted that it should be removed. The criticism of the city's action was forwarded on to Washington by me, not as a personal complaint, but as a chapter forwarding a question that was raised & to hopefully mediate on behalf of everyone.
Note this again: this is NOT a personal complaint. This is a legitimate questioning of tax payer money that purchased religious emblems, & displayed them in such a way that gave the appearance of a Most Favored Faith. This was NOT my complaint. It was a question the entire chapter agreed should be addressed & clarified. At no time did it ever get mentioned that the display should come down. Other phone calls & emails to AU were made by local people questioning this display & in support of privatizing the nativity, but AU would not give me those names citing privacy concerns.
A few days latter I received the email & fax that was sent to the city of Dallas. Basically, the letter said that the city was on very shaky legal grounds for purchasing the display with tax payer money.
As I leave the office one afternoon (which one, I can't remember: it is all kinda running together now), I saw the WSB TV news van in front of the creche. I stopped & asked what was it about. The reporter explained that someone had called in about the nativity & he asked if I knew anything about it. After going over the details, he asked if I wanted to go on camera. Obviously, that would not be a good idea, so I declined. (Not to mention my mom had gum surgery that day & my dad's cancer is really causing him some discomfort: I had already promised to handle supper for them that night & wouldn't back out.)
I spoke with the Mayor again on Monday, 12/17/07, & tried to explain all this again. I don't think he is too enthused about it much. I even offered to buy the display, leave it there & remove all questions about the conflict, but he refused. After another attempt to extend my hand today, I get the feeling he is still upset.
Let me repeat this again: at no time did anyone locally ever ask the nativity be removed. It was a question regarding the use of tax payer money that really looks like it was used to favor one faith over all others. That is the issue. Nothing more.
Whether we agree on the question of Church and State is irrelevant: the lady has a legitimate right to ask it be reviewed. The chapter agrees it doesn't look good. It gives the appearance of impropriety. The chapter has the right to forward a legitimate complaint for review.
I have been amazed at how our attempts at mediation caused us all to be in the cross hairs. Teachers are afraid to mention they think spending tax money on this is wrong. Other Christians are now afraid to honestly discuss the role of government in their church because they are scared of the backlash. Non-Christians have said they are now more afraid than ever to admit they disagree with the government endorsing a religion because of how they might be perceived. One lady in Kroger was even loudly proclaimed a heretic & that she was going to burn in hell for disagreeing with the spending of tax money on religious displays.
Personally, I have been called a liar, a heathen, a heretic & even worse (won't print those things).
In America, we don't persecute people for believing differently or having differing opinion. Looks like we only say it but don't really believe it.