Freedom From Religion Foundation threatens legal action if St. Bernard nativity scene isn't removed

Posted at 6:54 AM, Dec 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 12:46:09-05

ST. BERNARD, Ohio (AP) -- A national watchdog group wants St. Bernard to remove a nativity scene that the group says violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of separation of church and state.

The Tri-State Freethinkers first brought the small nativity scene to the attention of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) weeks ago. They say the village of St. Bernard could face legal action if the display in front of its city hall isn't removed.

"While the city can celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, they shouldn't be celebrating the religious aspects of it," said Sam Grover, FFRF staff attorney.

Foundation officials say they recently sent a letter to the village, saying that it can't continue to display the nativity scene on village property and asking for a written response after it's removed.

St. Bernard Mayor John Estep says the city has a mixture of secular and nonsecular decorations, protecting it legally, but Grover thinks the display could go one step further to make everyone feel comfortable.

"We still do think that it can be more inclusive. So while the city can celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, it shouldn't be celebrating the religious aspects of it. And there are many other holidays celebrated at this time of year that could also be included," Grover said.

Estep said St. Bernard won't turn away those groups celebrating holidays besides Christmas at this time of year.

"I think you have to be accepting in a diverse community as we have," Estep said. "I think that would be further proof that we're not against (them). We're not trying to promote one religion over another religion. We just want to celebrate the holidays."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.