Complaint forces Prineville to pull nativity scene

BEND — A complaint to a national non-theist group was enough to encourage the city of Prineville to take down its nativity scene at City Hall.

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the city in early December and said the scene makes the city appear to endorse one religion.

The nativity scene, which depicts the birth of Jesus as depicted in the Bible, is usually removed in Prineville after New Year's Day.

"Displaying an inherently Christian message on city property (at the entrance of City Hall!) unmistakably sends the message that the city of Prineville endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," the foundation wrote to the city.

The city will consider whether to erect the nativity scene next year at a January city council meeting, the Bend Bulletin reported.

Prineville Mayor-elect Betty Roppe said she didn't see the scene as a conflict when it was assembled.

"When you're talking about separation of church and state, that means the U.S. will not appoint a national religion, and we don't, and we won't," Roppe said. "So, I didn't see it as a conflict when we put it up. That's my opinion. If someone wants to put up a menorah during Hanukkah, I wouldn't have a problem."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said in the letter that the nativity scene effectively excludes non-Christians.

"When the government displays this manger scene, which depicts the legendary birth of Jesus Christ, it places the imprimatur of the city government behind the Christian religious doctrine," the foundation wrote. "This excludes citizens who are not Christian."

Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester said he expects that the council will set up a process that would allow the depiction of various religious symbols, and has contacted the League of Oregon Cities for advice on creating such a process.

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