Member tries to rid Iowa city park of nativity

FFRF member Aiyanna Looney did stellar work in Oskaloosa, Iowa, trying to rid City Square Park, which is a public park, of a nativity scene. After she photographed it Dec. 5, she contacted FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt, who responded promptly:
“If you could forward me those photos, that would be very helpful. Are there other nonsectarian displays up? Context is extremely important in these cases — also if there is a sign or something that indicates this was put up by anyone other than the city.”

Aiyanna noted in response that there were no other religious displays present. “There is a faux lighted pine tree with a star topper by the nativity, but no sign that states it’s a holiday tree or Christmas tree, or who placed the tree in the park. There is no sign that states the nativity was placed by anyone other than the city.”

She contacted Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Shrock Jr. about the religious display on public property. Her letter included this: “The use of government property to promote Christianity as superior to other faiths, religions and secularism is abhorrent. The city of Oskaloosa needs to take responsibility for this discriminatory display and remove the nativity or create an exhibit that is representative of everyone who lives in Oskaloosa and Mahaska County.”

On Dec. 7, Aiyanna emailed FFRF that the nativity was removed the day before and that Shrock told her that he didn’t want an open forum and had the nativity removed. 

UPDATE: Right before Freethought Today went to press, Aiyanna shared a voice mail left on her phone from council member Aaron Ver Steeg, who said, “I seen your letter. … I just feel that people like you — if you don’t want to look at something, look the other way — and you still have the freedom to move out of Oskaloosa.”

UPDATE 2: At a special Dec. 12 council meeting for “discussion and possible action on establishing a policy for decorations and event use in the city square,” Shrock backtracked.

The Oskaloosa Herald reported that the City council voted to return the nativity to the park: “They voted to add to the decorations within the city square so that it’s not just a nativity scene, but is accompanied by a Christmas tree as well as other secular holiday decorations.”

After the meeting, Aiyanna emailed: “I get the impression that no other faiths, or nonfaiths (atheists and agnostics), will be represented when the nativity is replaced in the park, and the city is going to use a ‘three reindeer rule’ regarding the city square: The 1985 Supreme Court ruling known as the ‘reindeer rule’ requires any religious display on public property to be balanced by secular displays in order to avoid any hint that the state is endorsing religion.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation