Long Standing Nativity Scene In New Mexico Asked To Be Taken Down By Advocacy Group

| by Nathaly Pesantez

A Nativity scene in Belen, New Mexico's has prompted a nonprofit organization to send a letter to the mayor of the city asking for the display to be taken down.

The letter, sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in mid-July to Mayor Jerah Cordova, details why the Nativity scene is an unlawful endorsement of religion by the local government.

"[It] sends the message that Belen endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in the letter, according to the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

"This excludes citizens who are not Christians, including nearly 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, either practicing a minority religion or no religion at all, and about 44 percent of millennials who are non-Christians."

The letter also suggested that the display could be moved to alternate spaces, like private or religious property.

Cordova did not take kindly to the letter.

"Immediately, I was upset with this organization because, while obviously they have an understanding of constitutional law, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of it, too, they have absolutely no understanding of Belen, of what Belen means and the pride we have in our name," he said.

Belen is Spanish for Bethlehem, the place where the Bible says Jesus was born. The New Mexico city's founders intended for Bethlehem to be it's namesake, adding a historic dimension to the ordeal that the FFRF fails to see, Cordova said to KOAT.

Alex Jessop, a Belen resident, says the display is secular.

"I think (separation of) church and state is a good thing, but in the sense of governing. This isn't really governing, it's just kind of a symbol," Jessop said to KOAT.

Father Clement Niggel, the pastor at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, has already expressed his support for the display and to the mayor in case of legal action.

Cordova said that Belen is ready to defend itself in court if the FFRF proceeds with legal action.

The Nativity scene is located in the Heart of Belen Plaza, a public park, and was erected in 1992.

Sources: KOATValencia County News-Bulletin

Photo Credit: KOAT Screenshot