A Nativity scene sculpture that sits in a public park will not be removed by officials in Belen, New Mexico. In response to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation calling for its removal, city officials and local clergy put on a Christian celebration on Dec. 5 in the City Hall parking lot (video below).
The celebration included local Christians dressing up as Jewish people as if they were in Bethlehem, which they say is the English translation of Belen. KOB reported that organizers asserted that all religions were represented at the "Follow the Star to Bethlehem" event, and interviewed a man who self-identified as "Messianic believer," which is a Jewish person who has converted to Christianity.
FFRF called on the city to remove the religious display from government property in the summer because the nonprofit advocacy group said it violates the principal of separation of church and state.
"They sent a couple of letters and pretty much left the issue alone up to this point so we're pretty satisfied about that," Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova told KOAT. "We stood strong, we stood tall and will continue to do so as a community and we'll continue to celebrate who we are."
Cordova added: "One of the things about this organization that I don't think they fully understand is when they send a letter like that, all they're doing is riling people up and getting them to express support more than they ever have before for things like this."
The "Follow the Star to Bethlehem" event included a play, "The Nativity," and performances by a choir and orchestra from a local Baptist church.
Pastor Ray Jaramillo of Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley, one of the clergy who took part in the event, said: "People are concerned about their freedom of religion and so in response we're trying to stand up and say we're not going to go in a corner and hide any more, we're going to stand up and proclaim what we believe. [FFRF's goal] backfired and I think riled up the Christian community to come out and support our religious freedom."
A lawyer for FFRF told KRQE in November the "Follow the Star to Bethlehem" private event is exactly what the FFRF supports -- because volunteers rented out the space from the City of Belen and it was not a government-sponsored event.
Pastor Greg McPherson, one of the organizers of the event, stated, "We wanted to put the Christ back in Christmas.”
“We as a community are saying that we support the traditional Christmas and we support Bethlehem and Belen,” MacPherson proclaimed on behalf of the town.
McPherson didn't mention that there is no celebration called "Christmas" mentioned in the Bible, nor is the birthday of Jesus Christ ever celebrated in the Good Book.
Cordova insists the nativity scene won't be moved out of the government-owned park, however, that will likely be decided by a court.