BOCA RATON (CBS4 ) -Members of a local church said the City of Boca Raton is discriminating against Christians by refusing to allow the display of a crèche or nativity scene inside of City Hall.
“It’s not just discrimination against Christians, this is undercutting and aggregating our first amendment rights,” said Pastor Mark Boykin of the Church of All Nations in Boca Raton. “So we are outraged that they have continued this discriminatory policy.”
The City of Boca Raton does have several holiday displays in and outside of its City Hall. Inside the building there is a menorah and a Christmas tree on display.
“They have said no we’re not going to allow a crèche, we have a Christmas tree,” said Boykin. “A Christmas tree has no more of a religious connotation than a red ribbon. So we are saying, what we are asking is equality.”
Boykin said for more than a year now, members of his congregation have pleaded with the city to allow their crèche displays. Last year they placed several on display inside City Hall only to find out later they had been put in the City’s lost and found. That’s the same thing that he said happened last week when the group left behind several crèches. Determined to have their viewpoint recognized, Boykin and his group marched from their church to City Hall carrying nativity scenes, some hand-made by children. Once at City Hall they left the crèches under and on the Christmas tree there.
CBS-4 News made several phone calls to Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel. She did not return those calls. The City Manager and City Council members also did not respond with a call. However, they did release the following statement dated December 17, 2009
“The City of Boca Raton celebrates the holiday season by having displays in the lobbies of public buildings. These displays are City-owned decorations and are comprised of a Christmas tree, a menorah, and a ‘Seasons Greeting’ sign, and may include garlands and/or lights. Although the City does not accept donations of holiday decorations for the lobbies of City buildings, individuals, groups, religious institutions and others are encouraged to erect decorations in the center of the downtown area in the City’s Sanborn Square Park, located on Federal Blvd. just north of Palmetto Park Road. Sanborn Square Park serves as a first amendment, free speech area for the City.”
It’s a statement that further outrages Boykin and his congregation. ”This is a first amendment rights issue,” said Boykin.
The group said they will continue to persist on this until the city recognizes what they consider the true meaning of Christmas.
“It’s kinda sad,” said Loren Ferguson, a member of the congregation. “We have to do something to open their eyes and just say hey just sit down and talk. You know we’re not trying to make a big scene or anything we’re just asking for some time.”