GIG HARBOR, Wash. - It's become a December tradition in Gig Harbor. At a public park, under a lit up tree, you usually find John Skansi's nativity scene. Skansi and Jim Franich say they received the Mayor’s permission to put the display in a public park in 2008, and it’s been there every year since, until now.
After a Tacoma News Tribune article today several members of the community are now talking about why the city won’t allow the nativity scene at Donkey Creek Park.
“This year we received a threatening letter from an out-of-state organization,” said City Administrator Ron Williams.
The letter, from Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, states the display is "unconstitutional and must not be put up again this year."
At city hall, they saw the possibility of a legal fight that would require public dollars to defend the private display.
“We were advised by our attorneys and we decided as a city not to allow the display this year,” said Williams.
Annie Laurie Gaylor with Freedom From Religion Foundation says she is pleased.
“They paid attention to the law and the Constitution,” said Gaylor. “We are happy to have this devotional Christian display on private property, on tax-free church property, on the private lawn of this citizen, but it doesn't belong on government property.”
Skansi and other members of the community are rallying together to push for the nativity scene to be put up in the public park this year.
“We are going to fight with the people of Gig Harbor, and we are going to try and keep the tradition alive,” said Skansi. “It’s about free speech, it’s about the tradition of Christmas, and the spirit of Christmas.’
“The reason for the holiday is the birth of Christ, and I thought it was important to celebrate that,” added Franich.
Ken and Charlene Christian live in Gig Harbor.
“I don't understand why a group outside of this state can dictate to our city what we can and cannot do,” said Ken.
“We are not asking them to worship at the feet of that nativity scene. We are asking them to tolerate the rest of us,” said Charlene. “We have a majority of the people of Gig Harbor who like that nativity scene. Why do we all have to suffer because one person has hurt feelings.”
State Representative Jesse Young says, “someone with an agenda from out-of-state is coming in and forcing the city’s hand. It’s standing up against a bully, and I think that accurately describes what we are trying to do.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation says they received complaints about the nativity scene over the years, and that's why they got involved.
The City Administrator says they will hold a hearing after the first of the year to see how the public wants to move forward on this issue.