Last week, a Texas-based law firm specializing in religious liberty cases threatened Rehoboth Beach with a lawsuit because the city continues to stand firm that a crèche cannot be placed on or immediately adjacent to the Bandstand or Boardwalk.
This week, a Wisconsin-based foundation committed to separation of state and church is applauding the city’s stance.
In a Dec. 18 letter to Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns, Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Christopher Line commended the city on its handling of the controversy and thanked the city for protecting the rights of all of its citizens.
“Not only is the city’s decision legally sound, it is the best way for the city to ensure that all of its citizens feel that they are welcome in the Rehoboth Beach community,” said Line.
Claiming a violation of First Amendment rights, First Liberty Institute, based in Texas, announced a potential lawsuit in a Dec. 12 letter to Kuhns and City Manager Sharon Lynn on behalf of Rehoboth’s Knights of Columbus Star of the Sea Council.
“City officials either have terribly wrong information or such animus toward religion and people of faith that they would rather break the law than allow a Nativity display at Christmas time,” said Roger Byron, First Liberty Institute senior counsel, in a prepared statement.
Byron set an end-of-day Dec. 13 deadline for the city to respond to the request.
In a letter, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas responded to First Liberty’s deadline, but did not reverse the city’s view.
Line said the city’s decision ensures that no one religious group is favored or excluded.
“Again, we thank the City of Rehoboth Beach for making a fair and reasonable decision that respects the right of conscience of all its citizens,” said Line.
The city is well within its rights to prohibit private, unattended displays, said Line.
“While the city cannot host a public forum and deny equal access to certain groups because of the content of their display, the city can host its own holiday display as long as that display does not endorse religion.”
In an email Dec. 19, Mandalas said the city would let the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation speak for itself.
“Some are in agreement with the city’s position and some are not,” said Mandalas in a Dec. 19 email. “We respect all the views that have been expressed by well-intentioned individuals and organizations.”
As of the Cape Gazette deadline Dec. 19, there was no word from Liberty Institute on the next step the Knights of Columbus plan to take.