The mayor of a Memphis suburb today asked the staff of a local library to allow the public display of a full nativity scene after officials had barred figurines representing Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the wise men, saying their presence would be “inappropriate.”
The controversy arose when Brandi Chambless, a member of the music ministry at Broadmoor Memphis Church, submitted an announcement for display on the Bartlett Branch Library’s community shelves regarding the church’s upcoming Christmas show. Library officials accepted the announcement but told Chambless that she would have to remove the “inappropriate” figures of the baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the wise men from an accompanying nativity scene and limit it to farm animals alone.
“Now we’ve got a bunch of barnyard animals in our display. We’ve got a sheep, a goat, a cow,” Chambless said last night on the Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor.” “We just think it’s the most ridiculous thing.”
This morning, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald stepped into the fray and asked the library to allow the entire nativity set to be displayed.
“We felt it was kind of odd to have a partial display,” Ray Rainey, chief administrative officer for the City of Bartlett, told WND.
Rainey indicated he was trying to contact Chambless to let her know of the mayor’s action. He also left a message at the Broadmoor Church telling a receptionist “they can feel free to come over to the Bartlett Library and complete their nativity scene if they’d like to do that.”
Betty Anne Wilson, assistant director for library advancement at the Memphis Public Library, confirmed that the Bartlett branch would “honor [the mayor's] request.”
The community shelves have traditionally been open to groups and individuals for the display of announcements, advertisements and other items as a means of providing information to the community.
“It truly is ridiculous that we even have to discuss whether a nativity scene can be displayed at Christmas,” said Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Nate Kellum. “Libraries are supposed to encourage free expression and thought. Government officials do not have the authority to pick and choose which items in a Christmas nativity scene are acceptable for display.”
ADF had written a letter to library officials saying the display submitted by Chambless in no way violates the U.S. Constitution.