Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, officials order church's nativity scene removed

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, officials order church’s nativity scene removed

Officials at a Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, say the city has forced them to remove a Nativity scene display from public property.

Officials ordered the St. Edmond Catholic Church to remove the scene after it was placed near the Rehoboth Bandstand. Rehoboth Beach Communications Director Krys Johnson said the city had not given the church permission to put up the display.

The church has a separate Nativity scene on its property, but wanted another display in a more prominent area.

“I’m not going to back down from what I believe to be true,” said the Rev. William Cocco of the St. Edmond Catholic Church, who is fighting to keep the crèche on display. “It’s sad and ridiculous that we’re having a fight about this. This PC (politically correct) attitude has gotten ridiculous.”

Representatives of St. Edmond Catholic Church said the church received informal permission from the city Sunday to put the crèche on display, with the condition that other religions be represented.

The officials later changed their minds. The church said it complied Thursday. But the church said it is working to schedule a meeting with city officials to try to bring it back.

A city spokesperson stressed the crèche is not city property and that the commission’s decision applies to all other religious symbols.

The commission on Friday morning cited a mid-November letter from the Anti-Defamation League to the city that gave recommendations on displaying religious symbols on public property during the holidays. The ADL said that it sends a similar letter every year.

“Religious displays on public property can be deeply divisive,” the letter reads. “The body of law on this issue is complex and not always predictable. For example, from a legal perspective, a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. But a crèche or a Nativity scene is.”

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The church has a separate Nativity scene on its property on King Charles Avenue. But Cocco said he also wants to place another crèche in a more prominent area.

Church advocates cite a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that a crèche on public property is not necessarily an endorsement of religion. But dissenters say that decision ruled crèches constitutional as long as they are placed around other secular symbols.

“We don’t want the appearance of any municipality endorsing any one religion over the other,” said a representative with the ADL.

But the church sees it differently.

“It’s a historical event, it’s a reality,” Cocco told the commission. “It’s like putting a statue of Columbus up on Columbus Day.”

Cocco said he agrees with the notion and does not have a problem with other symbols, but it does not feel that it is its responsibility to provide those symbols.

“If you want 30 things up (with) the crèche, I have no problem with that but I’m not here to argue why a menorah should go up,” said. “I don’t have the right to make the call on what the Jewish community (or other communities) would and wouldn’t want.”

Rehoboth takes it’s name from an event recorded in the 26th chapter of Genesis. The patriarch Isaac’s servants were repeatedly driven away from wells they had dug until, finally, their labors were left unmolested. For that reason, Isaac “called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, ‘For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.'”

Rehoboth resident Patty Derrick’s claimed that the city was known in 1873 as a “Christian seaside resort,” in her comments Friday before the commission. The city could not comment on her remark.

“It’s a community place where a community gathered for a Christmas tree,” Cocco said. “It comes down to what is one’s interpretation of what Christmas is all about? As a Christian, I’m offended that we can’t put Christ up there. But that doesn’t get discussed.”

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