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December 20, 2009
Holiday religious displays have been set up for decades on public property throughout Luzerne County, and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta doesn’t think communities should be denied that seasonal tradition now.
A menorah, Nativity scene, Christmas tree and Santa Claus are on display outside the Hazleton City Hall, just as they have been annually for at least 20 years, Barletta said Saturday night.
He’s reassured residents that the southern Luzerne County city’s display isn’t going anywhere.
The hotly contested issue over religious displays on public property emerged last week when the American Civil Liberties Union and another group threatened to file suit against Luzerne County to remove the Nativity and menorah on the courthouse lawn in Wilkes-Barre. The displays were removed, but one county official said they will be returned as part of a display featuring other secular objects.
“I don’t believe we are singling out any one religion. There is the menorah. There is the Nativity scene for the Christians and for the non-believers there is also nothing there. I don’t think the city is singling out one faith. I think they are all represented on the lawn,” he said.
He added the city would also display other religious objects by people wishing to honor their religions.
Shickshinny resident Kellie Jubis wrote county Solicitor Vito DeLuca a letter Friday to express her displeasure with having the Nativity scene being removed.
“If we as Christians and citizens of this United States do not speak up and demand to rightfully display our Christian heritage on public property, we will eventually lose all of our freedom,” she wrote.
“If you didn’t already notice, Christianity is now the target, and they will win if we choose to do and saying nothing,” she added.
The Rev. Dr. Bob Zanicky of the First Presbyterian Church – Wilkes-Barre agreed with Jubis, saying America was founded on Christian beliefs.
“We need not be ashamed nor fearful in recognizing the permeating presence of the Judeo/Christian heritage in our history. Sectarian considerations were not the consensus early on, nor are they today.”
Jubis went on to say she hopes Luzerne County officials make the right choice to put the Nativity back on display. The birth of Jesus is the greatest historical event that “shows the world the beginning of character, integrity, love and sacrifice,” she added.
DeLuca said Saturday night he has been working with a representative from the Rosenn Jenkins & Greenwald law firm, ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to create a display that is acceptable to everyone.
The Wilkes-Barre law firm offered free representation to the county and donated $1,000 to purchase other holiday secular items to be included in the display.
DeLuca expects to approve a design prepared by the county grounds official within 24 hours. If the design is acceptable, the county’s Christmas display should be back in place on courthouse grounds Monday morning
“We are trying to come up with a display that does not offend any religious groups and is constitutional permissible,” DeLuca said.
Sherry Long, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7159.