Delaware Nativity Scene | Cases | First Liberty

Christmas Tradition

For as long as anyone can remember, reportedly since the 1930s, a free-standing crèche, or nativity, has been part of the Christmas holiday tradition on the town circle in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Most recently and for many years the crèche was owned and placed by a local public service club. Other yearly holiday displays on-site include a Christmas tree, holiday lights and light displays, and a large Santa’s House on the Boardwalk erected, owned and displayed by the local Chamber of Commerce.

The creche’s traditional location is on the town circle but because of construction was temporarily moved to an alternate location, until last year, when Saint Edmond Church, supported by the Star of the Sea Council 7297 (the Rehoboth Beach Council of the Knights of Columbus) asked the City for permission to place the crèche back on the town circle for the 2018 holiday season. Understanding it had permission, KOC placed the crèche on a small grassy area on the circle.

Nativity Banned

The next day the City called the Church and ordered the crèche removed.

This decision proved unpopular with many Rehoboth Beach residents, but city officials maintained the ban on the nativity. The City consistently made clear the crèche could not be on public property because of its religious nature.

This November, during a television interview about the crèche, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns again reiterated the City’s anti-religion animus, saying the “city policy is not to have religious displays [like the crèche] on public property or city property.” Star of the Sea Council asked the City if they could at least place a crèche on the Boardwalk near the town circle, like the Chamber of Commerce is allowed to do with its Santa’s House.

But a city official responded that the Boardwalk is public property, and reiterated that city policy prohibits the crèche from placement on the Boardwalk or any other public property because it is religious.

The city policy comes despite long-standing U.S. Supreme Court opinions that even government-sponsored creches are lawful in holiday displays with secular and religious components and that religious discrimination is unlawful.

First Liberty, on behalf of the Star of the Sea Council 7297 sent a letter to the City urging officials to change their policy to align with the Supreme Court and allow the nativity.

In its letter, First Liberty explains that both the “blanket ban on religious displays” and “the City’s prohibition of KOC’s religious Christmas display while allowing a secular Christmas display by another local organization” is “textbook viewpoint discrimination.” “The City has prohibited KOC from displaying a crèche as part of the holiday displays on or immediately adjacent to the Bandstand circle solely because the crèche is religious. Such viewpoint discrimination is repugnant to the First Amendment, unlawful, and provides KOC ‘entitle[ment] to relief.’”

“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, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “It is a blatant violation of the First Amendment to ban religious displays from public property. We hope the city officials are simply misinformed about the law. We encourage them to follow the law and allow the Knights and the people of this town to continue the beloved tradition of a crèche as one of the holiday displays at the Bandstand circle.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.12.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Religious Liberty Law Firm to Delaware Town Officials: Banning Nativity Scene Violates First Amendment
First Liberty Institute represents Knights of Columbus group banned from placing Nativity at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware Town Circle

Rehoboth Beach, DE—Today, on behalf of the local Knights of Columbus council, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to city officials in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware urging them to reverse their recent blanket ban of a Knights of Columbus crèche, or Nativity, from any city property.

You can read the letter, here.

“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, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “It is a blatant violation of the First Amendment to ban religious displays from public property.”

For decades, a free-standing crèche has been part of the Christmas holiday tradition in Rehoboth Beach.  Its traditional location is on the Bandstand circle. Other yearly holiday displays on-site include a Christmas tree, light displays, and a large Santa’s House nearby on the Boardwalk erected, owned and displayed by the local Chamber of Commerce.  The local Knights of Columbus have been trying to continue the tradition of the crèche display. But beginning last year, city officials banned the crèche from city property, claiming it cannot be placed on the circle or other public property because it is religious.

This November, during a television interview about placement of the Knight’s crèche, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns reiterated the City’s anti-religion mandate, saying “city policy is not to have religious displays on public property or city property.”

In its letter, First Liberty explains that both the “blanket ban on religious displays” and “the City’s prohibition of KOC’s religious Christmas display while allowing a secular Christmas display by another local organization” is “textbook viewpoint discrimination.”  “The City has prohibited KOC from displaying a crèche as part of the holiday displays on or immediately adjacent to the Bandstand circle solely because the crèche is religious.  Such viewpoint discrimination is repugnant to the First Amendment, unlawful, and provides KOC ‘entitle[ment] to relief.’”

Byron added, “We hope the city officials are simply misinformed about the law.  We encourage them to follow the law and allow the Knights and the people of this town to continue the beloved tradition of a crèche as one of the holiday displays at the Bandstand circle.”

###

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

Social Facebook Social Instagram Social Twitter Social Youtube Social Linkedin Social Soundcloud

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicySitemap • © 2020 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute