City nativity scene draws state-church watchdog’s fire

Mayor Mike Wendel received a letter of objection Dec. 13 about an illegal nativity scene at the entrance to City Hall in Prineville, Ore. FFRF has about 400 Oregon members and 16,000 nationwide.
A local complainant alerted the Foundation to the violation, which has also occurred in previous years.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted it's unlawful for the city "to maintain, erect, or host this nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion. The Supreme Court has ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property."

Markert wrote: "Displaying an inherently Christian message on city property (at the entrance of City Hall!) unmistakably sends the message that the City of Prineville endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display. When the government displays this manger scene, which depicts the legendary birth of Jesus Christ, it places the imprimatur of the city government behind the Christian religious doctrine."

It's illegal to place symbols of one religion on property that belongs to the public, Markert said.

"There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed. Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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