Nativity scene will no longer be displayed on Wadena city property
WADENA, Minn. -- A Nativity scene that has been a Wadena park centerpiece for many years will be sold to the Ministerial Association and placed on private property after the constitutionality of the display was questioned by a foundation advocati...
WADENA, Minn. -- A Nativity scene that has been a Wadena park centerpiece for many years will be sold to the Ministerial Association and placed on private property after the constitutionality of the display was questioned by a foundation advocating the separation of church and state.
The display depicts Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus and an angel carrying a banner with the message, "Gloria in excelsis deo," which is Latin for "Glory to God in the highest." The city also erected lighted arches along pathways to the scene.
Wadena resident Tyler Rud brought the issue to the attention of the Wisconsin-based organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) after he saw the Nativity on display in Burlington Northern Park last year.
“We understand that many in the community may wish to continue with the City’s tradition. Despite that public sentiment, local governments may not violate the U.S. Constitution on the basis of it being popular among area residents,” wrote FFRF Attorney Patrick Elliott in a letter to the City of Wadena.
The city took down the display after Christmas last year and the council agreed to address the issue before this Christmas season.
The Wadena City Council met Tuesday night to make a decision on the Nativity display. The council chambers were packed with members of the community who came to support keeping the Nativity in display in the park. Several people spoke in favor of continuing the long-standing tradition of displaying the Nativity while no one spoke against the display at the meeting.
Wadena resident Jake Heppner spoke of the Christmas tradition in Wadena and that the community supports the holiday with an emphasis on “Christ.”
“I would hate to see the scene go away altogether,” said Wadena resident Craig Folkestad.
Others echoed those words.
City Attorney Jeff Pederson explained possible courses of action the city could take involving the Nativity. The least complicated action was to give away the Nativity so it could be displayed on private property.
After receiving input from Pederson and the community, the council unanimously voted to sell the Nativity to the Wadena Ministerial Association for $25 so it can be displayed instead on private property, avoiding a potential lawsuit against the city.
Councilmembers did not make the decision lightly, though.
“It was with a heavy heart that I voted last night to relinquish ownership of the Nativity scene,” said Wadena Mayor George Deiss. “Yes, it is a sad world when the wants of the few take precedence over the wants of the many. With the Nativity becoming the property of the Wadena Ministerial Association, I know it will be displayed in all its purity.”
If the city council had passed an ordinance allowing displays in the park it would have had to allow other displays by other groups, which concerned Deiss.
“I also believe it will be set up in areas where it will be as visible, if not more visible, than in the park,” he added. “Hopefully by this action we have kept Christ in Christmas here in Wadena.”
Other council members wrestled with the decision as well.
“I find it disheartening that we have to come to this decision,” said councilwoman Deb Wiese.
Pastor Nate Loer, a member of the Wadena Ministerial Association, said the group is meeting Thursday morning and will discuss the Nativity scene. The group will then decide where to display the Nativity this season.