Leaders in Georgetown, Delaware, have decided to prohibit unattended public displays — including Nativity scenes — over concerns erecting annual manger crèches could be dangerous.
According to a report from WBOC-TV, the town, which boasts less than 8,000 citizens, reviews its codes and policies on an annual basis, and this year, authorities decided “unattended structures” like Nativity scenes will no longer be allowed in the town square.
The historic crèche is usually sponsored by the Georgetown Wesleyan Church and other local organizations.
“If the wind kicks up and there’s not anyone there and stuff blows out to the traffic lane,” said town manager Gene Dvornick, claiming Nativity scenes pose a public safety issue.
Not everyone is pleased with the decision, though.
Charlie Koskey, owner of Chardon LTD Jewelers, told WBOC-TV he believes the traditional Nativity scene should still go up this Christmas.
“We have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the center and our light poles all speak of the Christmas season and I think the Nativity scene falls within that,” he said. “I think it’s important that these symbols represent the faiths of everyone that’s gonna be celebrating this time of year.”
Is this discrimination?
Suggesting the decision is in no way intended to be discriminatory against Christians celebrating the Christmas holiday, Dvornick told a local news outlet the new rule does not “just apply to religious displays.”
“There have been instances where unattended displays have been placed on The Circle and became safety issues,” he explained. “The town’s policy on unattended displays does not just apply to religious displays; it applies to any and all unattended displays.”
And the town’s statement on the matter says the new policy “applies to any and all standing, unattended private displays.”
This is not the first time Delaware has been caught up in controversy over Nativity scenes. One case from last year made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, when a handful of locals in Rehoboth Beach argued the manger crèche on public land violated the separation of church and state.
In addition, this entire ordeal comes as Pope Francis is urging people to put up Nativity scenes in their public squares, schools, and workplaces.
“Great imagination and creativity are always shown in employing the most diverse materials to create small masterpieces of beauty,” he wrote. “As children, we learn from our parents and grandparents to carry on this joyful tradition, which encapsulates a wealth of popular piety.”
“It is my hope that this custom will never be lost,” the pope added, “and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”