A small group of activists have set their sights on a wise men display that has been hoisted onto the roof of a public school in Michigan every year for more than 50 years.
The self-described civil rights clan — Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) — has given Newago Schools an ultimatum: take down the Christmas display or face legal action, according to CNN.
“We’ve asked the school to remove what is in essence a nativity scene, from the top of the school, and from school property,” said Mitch Kale of MACRA. “If this were on private property, it wouldn’t be an issue.”
In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Newaygo Public Schools Superintendent Peggy Mathis responded to Kale’s letter, saying the district was “in no way seeking a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.”
“To my knowledge, no one has been led to faith, or driven from faith, by this display that has spanned more than half a century,” Mathis wrote. “To my knowledge there is no case law that prohibits the depiction of three non-Christian middle eastern men on camels that are seeking wisdom. Our display has a legitimate secular purpose.”
And most of the residents in Newaygo seem to agree with Mathis. The display has been a part of the town’s Christmas traditions since the 1940s.
Amy Postma, a resident of Newaygo, told WWUP-TV the wise men display is “just a symbol of our community” and has “always been there and we love it.”
“You can’t just take away something that we’ve always done,” she said. “It’s not harming anyone; it’s not hurting anyone, so live and let live.”
Resident Lowell Godfrey said he wants to see the display protected for sentimental reasons, according to CBN News, because his “dad helped build those in shop class in the old school back in the 1940s.”
“[In my opinion] the school should have a class on world religions and as a project for the class have students create more artwork (like those 3 Wise Men), representative of other religious groups, and add them to the display,” he wrote.
Evangelist Franklin Graham wrote in a Facebook post that the display “should stay up and continue to send a message for years to come.” He encouraged his followers to “pray for the people of Newaygo as they battle for their religious freedom.”
While the issue is ongoing, locals are working on a contingency plan to move the wise men display to a private property located on the north end of Newaygo.