The City Council in Cheboygan, Mich., moved a nativity display off public property rather than give the Freedom From Religion Foundation equal time during the winter holiday season.
“We couldn't be more pleased,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We think religion — or irreligion — is divisive on public-owned property. If religious displays are allowed, ours should be allowed as well. But this resolution is a victory for the Establishment Clause.”
Instead of letting FFRF's "Let Reason Prevail" banner be displayed in a public park with the Kiwanis Club's religious nativity scene, the council voted Dec. 18 to ban all displays in Washington Park — except for secular displays by the Chamber of Commerce and the Opera House.
City Attorney Stephen Lindsay warned the council about denying FFRF’s request and facing litigation which “the city cannot win.”
City officials had either ignored or lodged spurious objections to FFRF's banner request starting in early December. The Kiwanis Club had put up the Christian display for 51 years.
Lindsay wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert on Dec. 19 that the council voted to suspend all private displays on city property and will appoint a committee to develop regulations and policies for displays.
The Cheboygan Tribune reported that Kiwanians moved the crèche the next day to the Citizens National Bank parking lot.
National Bank CEO Sue Eno said it was an easy choice to give the space to the Kiwanis Club.
“The move here makes so much sense," bank CEO Sue Eno told the newspaper. "We just don’t need the controversy in the city.”
The potential controversy could have come about if council would have allowed the erection of the FFRF banner or if it denied the request. If a denial was the route taken, the group more than likely would have sued the city on the basis of separation of church and state as it has done in Warren, Mich.
“I respect council for doing what they did. That group (FFRF) is entitled to their beliefs as well,” Eno said. “However, we have a great location here, a more convenient location.”
FFRF is very appreciative of local supporters who followed the issue and spoke up for state-church separation, said Gaylor.