The City of Rehoboth Beach ordered a local church to remove a nativity scene featuring Jesus Christ that was on display near the Bandstand.
Saint Edmond's Roman Catholic Church was ordered by the city last Thursday to remove a nativity scene, citing a letter from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that expressed concerns over the placement of religious displays on public property that could "make members of religious minority groups feel uncomfortable and unwelcome."
"Religious displays on courthouse steps, at city hall, or in other seats of government can send a strong message to religious minorities that they do not belong or do not have an equal say in government," Mayor Paul Kuhns said during Friday's meeting at City Hall, reading from the ADL's letter.
The decision to remove the nativity scene outraged and concerned many local Christians who flooded the meeting Friday morning to express concerns during the public comment period.
Rev. William Cocco, pastor at St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church, expressed concerns over the city's decision to remove the display, which he said represents the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus Christ's birth.
"The true meaning of Christmas is Jesus Christ," Rev. Cocco said. "We have Christmas lights in this town, lots of them, a Christmas tree, Christmas wreaths, Christmas decorations, and a Christmas parade, and yet we're not allowed to show Jesus Christ, that to me makes no sense."
Mayor Kuhns interjected, saying "excuse me one second, that's not true," to which Rev. Cocco asked "what's not true," at which time Mayor Kuhns replied, saying "that you're not allowed to show, you have plenty of property at St. Edmond."
Rev. Cocco clarified, saying "in a place that's viewable to all. At my parish of course we do, of course we have that, and I'm not opposed to a menorah up there. I'm not opposed to anything else anyone wants, but at the same time this action is saying that we can't have that as members of this community who would like it."
"Just because it's up there doesn't say that the city is saying 'everyone has to be Christian, or believe in Jesus.' Christmas came from the birth of Jesus Christ, so even if you don't like the religious aspect of it, even if you don't believe in it, it's a historical event," he continued. "We believe that Jesus Christ was born on Christmas, we believe that's why the celebration of Christmas came about, and therefore we're simply asking that a representation of that be in a public place."
The city claimed the parish did not have permission to display the nativity scene where they did; however, in prior years a nativity scene could be found near the M&T Bank on Rehoboth Avenue.
Rev. Cocco said he and others spoke with Mayor Kuhns and City Manager Sharon Lynn during a recent community dinner about displaying nativity scene in a more prominent place, which they said they'd consider.
Rehoboth resident and Christian, John Harvey also addressed city leaders during the meeting and expressed concerns over the fact that a nearby "Santa Claus House" would be allowed, but not a nativity scene, which was followed by applause.
"Within site of the Christmas tree, probably within a hundred feet of it, is the Santa Claus House," Harvey explained. "I can't understand why the city wouldn't allow the greatest gift given to mankind displayed underneath the Christmas tree that we have in the city."
Following the public comment period, Mayor Kuhns said he would discuss the concerns with City Manager Sharon Lynn, who was quoted in the Cape Gazette saying the city "would not endorse any one religion."
Shortly after the meeting, both Mayor Kuhns and Rev. Cocco appeared LIVE on the Ed Tyll Show to discuss the issue.
Mayor Kuhns said he spoke with Rev. Cocco and told him that he would "look into it," but never officially gave approval for the group to place the nativity scene on city property.
"In this case I did have a conversation with Father Cocco and I did say we were looking into it," Mayor Kuhns said. "Two days later it was put up on city property."
Ed Tyll asked Mayor Kuhns if he found that to be "provocative," to which he replied "absolutely" and relayed the same notion he expressed during the meeting that the church has plenty of property to display the nativity scene outside their parish.
"They do not have the right to just put up 'something like that' on public property," Mayor Kuhns concluded.
Rev. Cocco said Mayor Kuhns characterized the church as sort of being a "bully on the block," and reiterated that he and others spoke to city leaders prior to putting up the nativity scene.
"I don't even know that anyone's even complaining about it and what's sad is that we can't put up a creche of Jesus Christ based on Christmas," Rev. Cocco explained. "That's sad, very sad."
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