In the town named after the birthplace of Jesus, the officials of Bethlehem, New York, have banned any signs saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.” The Daily Caller reports that officials took down two signs from a busy intersection that said “Happy Hanukkah” and “Merry Christmas.” They refuse to have any more signs put up because they feared the signs were breaking the law. A lawyer representing Bethlehem said the signs were not allowed, but Christmas trees and other symbols were acceptable.
The NY Daily Times FaceBook page reports about the ban in Bethlehem.
US News And World Report reported that the decision caused quite an uproar with the citizens of Bethlehem. A group of about 10 citizens showed up at the intersection with signs saying “Merry Christmas” and “Little Town of Bethlehem” to protest the town officials’ decision. One local woman, who bought the two Christmas signs that were taken down, contacted the lawyer who said that symbols were fine but written signs were not.
The town attorney, James Potter, emailed the woman and said, “Moreover, there is limited space at the Four Corners, and adding signage could potentially be visually distracting to motorists.”
“The town cannot endorse one religion over another, so the town must either allow signs for all groups participating in the holiday display, or prohibit signs altogether.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a Christian legal group, has told the town they should not be afraid to say “Merry Christmas.”
“No one should fear that saying ‘Merry Christmas’ on a sign like this will violate the Constitution. It does not,” Joseph La Rue, who is a legal counsel for ADF, said in a statement. “The courts, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, have been clear that the government can erect Christmas signs and displays, including even Nativity scenes, without having to fear a constitutional violation.”
The ADF even sent a letter to the town explaining that the town did not have to take the signs down, but for now the town is still banning the signs.
“The irony is not lost on us that your Town’s name is Bethlehem,” reads the ADF letter.
“Christians believe that, in the Bethlehem of old, there was no room in the inn for the Christ Child. We hope that Bethlehem, New York, will make room for a sign to wish those who drive by the Four Corners a ‘Merry Christmas’ in recognition of the importance of this holiday to many of Bethlehem’s people.”
WND also reported that the ADF said Bethlehem began displaying holiday greetings a few years ago when a Jewish group posted a temporary display with a Menorah that had the words “Happy Hanukkah.”
Later the signs that were removed were displayed by the local woman, Dr. Elena Marcelle. The signs were displayed for two years but this year the officials “decided that the Merry Christmas sign could not be placed on the town’s property” because they were afraid they would violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state clause.
The WND article says that actually, there are several reasons it is okay for government entities to allow messages like these. “In God We Trust” is the national motto, there is religious art displayed in the National Gallery, which is funded by tax dollars, Christmas is a national and state holiday, and there is a very permanent symbol of religion in the U.S. Supreme Court chamber, Moses and the Ten Commandments.
ADF went on to say in the letter, “If all these government displays honoring the nation’s religious heritage do not violate the Establishment Clause, the town’s ‘Merry Christmas’ sign certainly does not.”
Last year, a similar ban in Marshfield, Massachusetts brought protests by citizens as well. The video below shows people waving “Merry Christmas” signs in defiance of the ban.
Do you think the town of Bethlehem, or any town for that matter, should allow the signs to be displayed? Please feel free to comment below.