What Do You Think About the Nativity Scene on the Common?

Is it appropriate for Woburn to have a religious display on the city common?


For years, the city of Woburn has decorated the common in December. Along with winter ornaments, a large nativity scene is prominently featured.

Earlier this week, Woburn Patch received a complaint from a reader who declined to leave his or her name:

"I think it's wrong that we have a religious display on the common. City funds should not be used for religious displays."

While there is a nativity scene, there are also:

  • Carolers singing in historic winter garb;
  • A Santa Claus and reindeer, including Rudolph;
  • A snowman;
  • A family of penguins.

What do you think? Is the nativity scene appropriate? In a city that has three Catholic churches, three Baptist churches, two Congregational churches, a Lutheran parish, a Methodist church and several other Christian parishes—is it OK to have a display depicting the birth of Jesus Christ on the city common?

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Aron Levy December 12, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Everyman, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. You'll have to forgive me, as I had feared you were going to start an Islophobic rant. Glad to see I was wrong!
Becky December 12, 2012 at 11:04 PM
I'm an atheist. I'm not crazy about the nativity scene, but it doesn't bother me enough to complain about it as the person who wrote to Patch did, but that's just me. I do, however, fully support that person's right to do so, and wish that he could do so without being mocked, called an idiot, a malcontent, or having his concerns reduced to "ridiculous political correctness". That, honestly, doesn't seem very Christian, so to speak. I have always thought that religion should be a private matter, between a person and his own God, whomever that may be. As an atheist, I usually keep quiet about my non-belief (and, given some of the comments here, perhaps some of you can understand why). We're not trying to spoil things for "everyone else", or trying to foist our beliefs on you. The nativity scene--which is a religious symbol is on the Common--which is public land, maintained by the City. I don't think there can be any debate about that. To some, that is a violation of separation of church and state. To me, it's a minor matter, when there are much more serious issues in the world to debate, but I do respect that others feel differently on both sides. I don't usually comment on the more contentious issues on Patch, because, quite honestly, some of the debates just get too ugly. I simply can't understand why we can't all agree to disagree and still respect differing opinions without insults and abuse.
David Chesler December 13, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Well said, Becky!
John Franson December 14, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Tolerance is the cost of liberty. A small price to pay.
David Chesler December 14, 2012 at 02:56 PM
The tolerance comes with a positive and a negative direction. The positive is tolerating others, protected by the "free exercise" clause. The negative is not taking it over for oneself, protected by the "establishment" clause. There is not always a bright line separating the point in the conflict where a free exercise is intolerably conflicting with another's free exercise, to the point where it has become an establishment. In my humble opinion, we generally do well on the free exercise side. (There are execptions, but if we were perfect we would have no need for laws.) The negative, I worry that we're talking past each as in this thread, that people can't get past "Everybody celebrates Christmas, even Jews, although they call it Chanukah" and can't see why some are concerned that the Nativity on the Common is too much of an entanglement (or too close to a slippery slope of entanglement) between state and church. There is plenty of good will here, no problem. It becomes more contentious in areas where what is right or wrong is strongly shaped by religious beliefs (we have shifted away from that in the past century in matters of Temperance or Blue Laws, but it's still an issue for things like marriage, abortion, and incest; and again I get frustrated watching people who differ on fundamentals talk past each other.) Also in areas where government incorporates custom for convenience of the users, such as the school calendar.


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