After being asked to remove a public Nativity scene by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the citizens of Belen, New Mexico, are planning an elaborate holiday celebration with a religious emphasis.
The town of Belen, which is Spanish for Bethlehem, has had a Nativity scene in its central plaza since 1992. In July 2015, Major Jerah Cordova received a letter from FFRF requesting the Nativity be removed, according to KRQE News 13.
“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 letter reads, reports KRQE 13.
The town has been resisting FFRF’s request, arguing that the fixture has become integral to the community’s history.
“I understand the separation of church and state,” Cordova told KRQE 13. “I get it completely, but this is an historic art piece.”
Since the Nativity came under attack from FFRF, supporters of the religious scene have raised $50,000 to mount an ambitious holiday festival that will have unmistakable religious overtones.
The event is titled “Follow the Star,” scheduled for Dec. 5 and will be held near the embattled Nativity scene. The festival will feature vendors, musical entertainment, a petting zoo and incorporate Hebrew iconography. The main event will involve a Nativity performance and a figurative lighting of the Star of Bethlehem. Admission will be free, according to The HUB of New Mexico.
“We wanted to put the Christ back in Christmas,” Pastor Greg MacPherson told KRQE 13. “We as a community are saying that we support the traditional Christmas and that we support Bethlehem and Belen.”
An FFRF representative told KRQE 13 its secular organization has no problem with the festival because it is a privately held event.
Cordova is considering selling the property that the Nativity rests on to a private owner so the fixture would no longer be considered public property. FRRF says it would welcome such a sale, according to The Blaze.
“The Nativity represents 275 years of Belen history and tradition,” Cordova told The Blaze. “Nativities have been placed in this area for decades without incident."