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Rehoboth should reverse nativity stance

December 6, 2019

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns and his administration’s authoritarian refusal to allow the decades-old tradition of placing a nativity scene on city land at the Bandstand is wrong-headed at best. At worst, it’s a violation of First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Those rights include freedom of expression, freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a seasonal holiday display that included a nativity scene - also known as a creche - on government property. The majority ruled that the creche did not violate the so-called establishment clause in the First Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The court essentially ruled such scenes have a legitimate purpose, to celebrate the origins of Christmas which has long been a part of western culture.

Tradition and context are important elements of the ruling. Could there be a community any more emblematic of tradition and context than Rehoboth Beach? The Rev. Richard Todd founded the city in the late 1800s as a seaside Christian resort. Tradition is obvious. Context is the Christmas season with all of the other holiday trappings including the beautiful lights in the Rehoboth Avenue medians, the magnificent Christmas tree on the Bandstand property, and the Santa Claus house on the Boardwalk.

The city has not been called upon to own, maintain or install the nativity scene on the Bandstand property - all done through the decades by a variety of religious and secular organizations. It is always taken down after the holiday season.

The inclusion on public property of a nativity scene amidst all of the other holiday decorations does not constitute a government endorsement of Christianity. No one is suggesting that only Christian expressions be allowed during this holiday season of love.

If the Kuhns administration is so concerned that Rehoboth Beach should not be officially associated with anything religious, perhaps it should next turn its attention to changing the city’s name since Rehoboth comes to us from Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible.

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher emeritus, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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