Fearing they would run afoul of the ACLU, county officials in Pennsylvania pulled a Nativity display that had adorned a public park for several weeks.

Nativity display deemed illegal by county officials in Pennyslvania. (Courtesy Beaver County Times)

Beaver County officials said the group that set up the display before Thanksgiving did not get permission, but if they had asked, they would have been rejected because the county solicitor has determined it violates the U.S. Constitution, the Beaver County Times reported.

The county commissioners chairman, Dan Donatella, told the paper the commissioners disagree with the interpretation but are obligated to obey it, citing two previous instances in which the ACLU has threatened lawsuits over creches.

The county removed one in the courthouse and another in the jail.

Organizers of the county’s annual Festival of Trees fund-raiser, which benefits children served by the county’s Children and Youth Services, placed the scene of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the star of Bethlehem and two lambs at the entrance to Bradys Run Park.

“Had [festival organizers] consulted with us, they would have been informed that they could not put that Nativity set on county property,” Donatella said. “Under law, we’re not allowed to do that.”

Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, told the Beaver County paper religious symbols arbitrarily erected on public property are unconstitutional because they endorse a particular religion, and government must represent people of all faiths.

“If Beaver County is putting up that creche, what’s the message they’re sending to residents: We promote, support and endorse Christmas and Christianity?” he said. “Does that mean Christianity is better than the other religions?”

Walczak said it would meet constitutional requirements if the park entrance allowed all groups to display religious messages on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We have kept peace in this country largely because government and religion remain separate,” he said. “The big difference between us and places like Bosnia and the Middle East is separation of church and state, along with the right to practice individual religion.”

A federal judge ruled Wednesday a Florida town must allow a display of the Nativity this season, granting a temporary restraining order based on the substantial likelihood of successful speech and equal-protection claims in an on-going case.

The town allowed the display of Jewish menorahs but rejected a woman’s Nativity display, even if she paid for it herself.

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