Ahead of a Monday meeting that will discuss the city’s removal of a nativity scene from its property, more than 600 have signed an online petition requesting it be restored to the courthouse lawn.
On Thursday, however, came a pledge from the Iowa State Director for American Atheists that if the nativity scene is restored they will fight to add additional displays of their own to the area.
Monday afternoon’s removal of a nativity scene came after several citizens had raised issues with the display being on government property to Centerville City Councilmember Jay Dillard, who relayed it on to city administrator Jason Fraser.
The concerns were raised days after the display was set up on Nov. 18, steps away from the east entrance to the Appanoose County Courthouse. While Appanoose County owns the courthouse and the land it sits on, the city of Centerville owns the lawn that encompasses the historic limestone structure.
The identifies of the citizens who raised issue with its placement aren’t known, and Dillard told the Daily Iowegian Tuesday he felt he was carrying out his duties as a councilmember in passing them along to Fraser.
Fraser had initially approved the display’s location under a previous council decision giving him authority to rule on permits for using the courthouse lawn area.
Fraser said he communicated the decision with the individuals who initially requested the scene be placed on the courthouse lawn that it needed to be moved before Thanksgiving. It was Monday afternoon before volunteers could be gathered to move the display to its present location at the corner of Main and Maple Streets.
Justin Scott, the state director for the American Atheists organization, phone the Daily Iowegian Thursday. He said the organization was pleased to hear of the city’s decision to remove the display from government property. Though, as the council is expected to consider whether to undo that move on Monday, he made a pledge.
“If they decide to put the nativity scene back to where it originally was, then we will, in fact, demand equal access to the same property and not just for an atheist viewpoint, but for any other viewpoint of any other minority faith,” Scott said Thursday. “Which, that could be fill in the blank: Islamic, Satanic, Wiccan, Pagan ...”
Scott recently led an effort to place seven non-religious displays in the Iowa State Capital rotunda
“We believe that Jesus is at the heart of Christmas and there are other Christmas decorations at the square,” part of the petition text reads.
As of Thursday morning, 633 had signed the petition supporting the nativity scene being moved back to the courthouse lawn.
The topic will be on the agenda for the Centerville City Council’s next meeting on Monday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m.