Oskaloosa City Council Agrees To Restore Nativity
Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Oskaloosa city council chambers were filled beyond overflowing at a special meeting on Wednesday night.
Discussion of a nativity and if it was to return brought out passionate people with beliefs and thoughts on the subject.
Oskaloosa City Manager Micheal Schrock discussed how the nativity scene came to be a part of the downtown square during the holiday season. The committee had agreed to allow the nativity on the square, but they had also agreed that if there was a complaint, it would then be taken down.
Schrock said that when the complaint over the placement of the nativity was received, he made contact with the chamber and it was removed the following day.
The Oskaloosa City Hall and the Oskaloosa Chamber and Development Group then began to field calls from residents over its removal. Schrock said that initially, “the calls were OK, they were inquires. Towards the end of the week, they became personal.”
Schrock then began calling council members who, in turn, were reaching out to him about the subject. All of this lead to the special session.
So, at 5pm on December 12th, 2012 the special session of the Oskaloosa City Council was called to order.
Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt opened the floor for the community to make their comments until 5:30pm, with community members getting a limit of three minutes each at the microphone.
The council agreed to move upon enhancing the decorations within the city square so that it’s not just the nativity scene. This would include things that are traditional holiday items such as reindeer, a snowman, candy canes or a banner that might say ‘Seasons Greetings’. The group of items could then include the nativity.
Liz Colton was one of the first residents to speak before the council. She addressed them saying that she supported the square as a public space, “and therefore there should not be specific religious displays, unless all faith traditions are allowed to put up their own displays.”
“This country was based upon the separation of church and state,” Colton said. “I’m very grateful for the religious freedom that the constitution provides me and my congregation.”
“I don’t think that it’s fair we exclude other faith traditions, even if Christianity happens to be the primary faith tradition in this community. If this were a private space, I would feel differently.” Colton said in conclusion.
Jody Mitrisin expressed that while driving through town “we were so impressed to see, for a very long time, a beautiful tree and alongside it a manger scene. Christmas is a Christian holiday… But without Christ in Christmas there is no Christmas. It’s just basically bottom line.”
Aiyanna Looney who wrote the original complaint about the Nativity then spoke to the council. “My complaint was basically the manger was by itself.”
She outlined 3 options, those including doing nothing on the square, a city display that represents everybody, or an open forum “where residents can place something with the Nativity. The Nativity doesn’t have to come down, but if there’s a Nativity in the city park, which is government property funded by every taxpayer here regardless of their religion or race, then everybody needs to be represented.”
“We all need to be represented in our park. That was the point of my letter,” Looney said.
Looney said that if an open forum is chosen, she had materials that would help represent different religions. “If we do have an open forum, I am prepared. I have a co-exist flag here which represents, with symbols, many different religions, including agnostics and atheists. And I have a flag here that represents nine different religions including Islam, Buddhists, Judaism, Wiccans and Pagans like myself, as well as Native Americans and Hindus. So, I have items for an open forum.
Ms. Looney asked that the council approve a plan that would represent everybody or an open forum, “not just one faith.”
Vicki Jones, who is a member of the Christmas Committee that planned the Friday night event, said, “Our goal was… we wanted to create a spectacular evening for the residents of Oskaloosa. That’s why we did it.”
Jones said that many donations were received for the Christmas Tree that was erected in the town square, including donations from those who don’t normally contribute. “That is cool.”
She expressed a desire to continue improving the experience for the community on the Friday after the Lighted Christmas Parade.
“I guess it was natural for us to think a Nativity scene would be beneficial and everybody would enjoy that and it would make the Christmas season even brighter. We live in a very sad world, and I think tonight is the proof of it. Of all the things going wrong in this world, and then we have to fight about a Nativity scene, that’s pretty sad.”
“I’m just here to say it’s not our intention to create problems, we were just trying to create a good time,” Jones said in conclusion.
Oskaloosa City Councilman Aaron Ver Steeg has been a vocal advocate for the return of the Nativity. In discussion with his fellow council members he said, “I for one would like to see it [Nativity] put back up. Ver Steeg also said that, in his belief, the Christmas Tree was enough to fulfill the requirements to display the Nativity.
The discussion to follow from the remaining council member’s were similar to Ver Steeg’s, and after nearly a half hour of debate, the council moved to approve the replacement of the Nativity back to the town square, and include with it secular items to fulfill the “3 Reindeer” requirements set out by the US Supreme Court.
The display will return to the town square in the near future.