The town named after the birthplace of Jesus Christ has banned signs celebrating the holidays at an intersection in the town that has become a local battleground for the War on Christmas.
Officials from Bethlehem, New York had a “Happy Hanukkah” sign and a “Merry Christmas” sign removed from a busy intersection and have refused to put up any new holiday signs out of fear the signs would be breaking the law, The Albany-Times Union reports. The town’s lawyer reportedly said Christmas trees and other symbols were acceptable, but written signs would not be allowed, a decision that has caused an uproar in the local community.
The town’s decision has drawn criticism from residents and outsiders. A small group of protesters met Wednesday night at the location where the signs were. One resident, Elena Marcelle, bought two Christmas signs for the area but was told they would not be allowed. She corresponded with the town’s lawyer via email.
“Moreover, there is limited space at the Four Corners, and adding signage could potentially be visually distracting to motorists,” the town’s attorney James Potter said in a Dec. 14 email to Marcelle, the woman who offered to buy the sign. “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 Christian legal group, The Alliance Defending Freedom, has weighed in to let the town know they should not be afraid.
“No one should fear that saying ‘Merry Christmas’ on a sign like this will violate the Constitution. It does not,” Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue 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.”
ADF sent a letter to the town last week explaining the town had no legal obligation to take down the sign. But for now, the signs are banned.
“The irony is not lost on us that your Town’s name is Bethlehem,” the ADF letter reads. “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.”
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