Supporters of keeping a 23-year-old nativity scene in the central square of Belen, New Mexico, gathered for a rally Sunday.
The protest was triggered by a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which alleged that the displaying of the scene on government property violates the law.
“It is unlawful for Belen to maintain a display that consists solely of a Nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for and endorsing one religion,” the FFRF letter stated, according to KRQE.
Belen officials refused to carry out the request.
“I understand the separation of church and state,” Belen’s Mayor, Jerah Cordova, said, according to KRQE. “I get it completely but this is an historic art piece.”
“It’s intimidating for people who have different beliefs or none at all,” countered Ron Herman, a local member of FFRF.
Supporters of retaining the statue have set up a petition and are promoting their cause through a website.
“We’re here to tell this group out of Wisconsin, this group that wants to erase a piece of our tradition and a piece of our history, that this nativity is gonna stay,” Cordova told the rally Sunday.
“I’m here today to tell you – we’re going to fight back,” Cordova added, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re going to stand strong to defend our history and traditions. We’re going to stand strong to defend our Nativity.”
The statue was installed in 1992 to honor Theresa Tabet, a local resident active in the community.
“It would be devastating to the family and I think it would be to the community as well,” Tabet’s grandson, Andrew Tabet, said on the impact of removing the nativity scene, KRQE reported.
“That Nativity scene does not represent every religion and if you're not going to represent every religion, then you're not representing every citizen in the United States and it's a violation,” said Angela Combs, President of FFRF Albuquerque, according to KOB.
Cordova told KRQE that his office has already been contacted by attorneys offering to take the case for free should it reach court. But FFRF has indicated that court action would be a last resort, and that it hopes the statue will be removed to a church or private property, according to KOAT.
Photo credit: Albuquerque Journal, WikiCommons