Vernon, Connecticut is preparing for XMass – and other celebrations -- early this year.
According to a report in The Journal Inquirer, Vernon’s mayor Ellen Marmer and Town Administrator Christopher Clark have “crafted a document” that will allow Vernon’s annual crèche display to be disported once again on the town green.
The crèche display was yanked from the green two XMasses ago when village atheist Mr. Dennis Paul Himes, state director of the American Atheists, threatened legal action because the town had “violated the constitutional provision of separation of church and state by allowing the Christian crèche to be displayed on town property.”
Last year the crèche was re-sited to St. Bernard Church because landscaping was being done on the green. This year, according to the JI, the issue “came to a head when the Republican Town Committee passed a unanimous resolution requesting the scene representing Jesus' birth be returned to its traditional spot in Center Park for 2007.”
The document engineered by Marmer and Clark respects the principle of diversity, which looms large in the minds of town administrators who fear legal suits.
"Everybody has a limited space,” said Mayor Marmer, “and there are only a number of spaces available. We had to allow for diversity and give everyone a chance to exhibit. We just wanted to make sure we were being fair. Either you do nothing or you give everyone equal footing."
“Everyone,” the mayor hastened to explain, would of course include the “beliefs” of atheists. Since atheists do not believe in God, or religion for that matter, it seems doubtful that Mr. Himes could this soon before Christmas produce suitable non-religious symbols and representations that will be included with other religious items on what is certain to be a crowded town green.
The Marmer/Clark policy, according to the JI report, states that Vernon “’wishes to do more to respect the importance of symbolism and individualized expression’ and to recognize the existence of many religious - and nonreligious - traditions.
“As such town buildings and facilities will set aside space, of equal import, to recognize the various symbols and traditions celebrated throughout the winter.”
Some Republicans in Vernon may be wondering what displays the Wiccans and Zeus worshipers will come up with. They are a bit hot under the collar because the mayor did not consult them before she settled on her policy.
The public space allotted to the Christians is too short to accommodate the traditional crèche display, and this has upset some Republicans.
"That's irritated some people," said Republican Town Councilman Daniel E. Anderson. The Christian churches, he added, are now "going to have to revisit what they display, and potentially buy another crèche."
Republicans are not adverse to diversity said Anderson: "We see all these displays as being a cultural experience of the town, and I think that's healthy, but this is a community issue and it needs to be debated by the greater community. There was no facilitating or getting of opinions here."
"Everyone seemed very happy with the policy," Marmer said.
The JI reported, “Among other things the new policy allows for the traditional stringing of white lights in Central Park and on lampposts and major trees in various sections of town, as that is considered a celebration of the winter season without regard to a particular religion.
“Garlands and wreaths will grace Town Hall, Central Park, and other municipal buildings.
It will not be long before the Christians realize that garlands and wreaths originated in Pagan festivals. Perhaps the pagans have the edge on Vernon’s multifarious Christain/Jewish/Wiccan/Atheist Winterfest.
In Vernon, and on town greens across the United States in coming years, one will no longer see displayed representations of religious faith. Increasingly, what one sees there is a court ordered abstract argument: baby Jesus surrounded, in the heart of the Christmas season, with rednosed Rudolph’s, Santas and now – thanks to diversity – the emblems of Wiccan, paganism and, as the kids might say… whatever…
What would happen if, seeking to enforce the mayor’s yearning for diversity, the Christians should insist that the paganish wreaths and garland be decorated with crosses?