Report by Paula Antolini
November 29, 2018 9:19AM EDT
Photo: Bethel’s First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker (center) and Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) held up an image of a rendering of a sign, for the first time to the meeting attendees, from an application re-submitted by James Naddeo for a display in P.T. Barnum Square. The banner read, “This season, no matter what you celebrate or why, Happy Holidays! — Your atheist neighbors.” The logo and name “American Atheists” was below that. Selectman Richard Straiton (right) observes.
A Sign That Reads ‘Happy Holidays — Your Atheist Neighbors’ Could Be Approved in Bethel and Placed Near Nativity Display
There was obvious police presence and extra news media coverage at the Bethel Board of Selectman (BOS) ‘Special Meeting for ‘Consideration of Policy for Displays at P. T. Barnum Square‘ that took place on Monday, November 26, 2018, from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m., in Room A of the CJH Municipal Building. Despite the bad weather of a heavy rain downpour the meeting contained a packed crowd with standing room only.
This meeting was to address a particular application approval for a display in P.T.Barnum Square, that had been submitted on 11-5-18 by James Naddeo, a local member of the Democratic Town Committee, and also to address rules related to future applications for displays in town.
BOARD OF SELECTMEN SHOW SIGN DESIGN TO MEETING ATTENDEES
Sounds of gasps, expressions of surprise, and what appeared to be disapproval came from many attendees at the meeting as First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and Selectman Paul Szatkowski simultaneously each held up an image, for the first time to meeting attendees, of a rendering of a sign from an application re-submitted by James Naddeo recently, this time with the necessary insurance and sign design, for a display in P.T. Barnum Square. The banner read, “This season, no matter what you celebrate or why, Happy Holidays! — Your atheist neighbors.“ The logo and name “American Atheists” was below that, in red and white lettering on a blue snowy background.
The sign design was not mentioned or shown to meeting attendees until after First Selectman Knickerbocker had closed public input. People seemed frustrated that there could not be any discussion on this additional topic of the possible sign approval and its and placement in P.T. Barnum Square along with the Nativity. But later in the meeting at least a half dozen residents still managed to make comments about the sign, basically by just speaking without permission despite public input being closed, as First Selectman Knickerbocker did not strongly enforce this public input closure rule for all.
FIRST SELECTMAN KNICKERBOCKER SET VERBAL RULES FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS
First Selectman Knickerbocker prohibited meeting attendees from speaking freely during public comments at the November 26th BOS Special Meeting, by setting up specific parameters of topics not allowed. Any reference to the person responsible for creating the controversy, or any other individual, was referred to as “indicting” others, and not allowed.
First Selectman Knickerbocker stated that he would not allow anyone to speak about James Naddeo or other residents at the meeting, saying, “We’re here to discuss the positives … I don’t want this to be an indictment of another citizen who is pursuing his rights whether we agree with that or not.”
Knickerbocker also narrowed the scope of what people could address, saying, “If we have comment on the appropriateness of display, that is really our purpose here tonight. I don’t really want to get into indicting others by name.”
Although social media is a public forum, and public comment should not be filtered, Knickerbocker said, “I would prefer not to put social media into this meeting. That’s not appropriate. There is an application that will be dealt with.”
THE DISPLAY APPLICATIONS
First Selectman Knickerbocker said, “There were three other applications, including two from out-of-towners, which were rejected for that reason.” The one other application was incomplete, he said.
The application the BOS discussed at the meeting is the same application submitted earlier that “was incomplete, but now it is complete,” Knickerbocker said, and is the application from James Naddeo for the banner sign.
The Board of Selectmen ended up not being able to approve the sign at this meeting because the sign size was not known, so it is tabled until the next meeting on December 4th. Knickerbocker did say the application included the necessary insurance that was paid for by an individual as opposed to a company.
It appears that the Board of Selectmen and Parks and Recreation Department handled Naddeo’s original application and additional applications with due diligence. However, it also appears that they are applying the word “inclusivity” to any application, and asking Bethel town attorney Martin Lawlor if it is legal to deny an application or not.
Knickerbocker asked attorney Lawlor, “What’s the general guideline?” Lawlor replied, “Well the general guideline is normally where, if you put up an actual religious display, no matter what type it is, in the center part of where the government is, like its building, it’s usually not allowed. But on a place like P.T. Barnum Square you could have it, as long as it is being made clear that it is not being sponsored by the town. And that’s pretty much it.”
Knickerbocker asked Lawlor, “If there are going to be multiple displays, is there any core precedent that they would have to be at the same location?” Lawlor replied, “I don’t think so.”
Knickerbocker continued, and asked Lawlor, “If there was a display, we’ve been talking about, the residents here have been talking about, other religious displays, the Menorah has been mentioned several times, what about a non-religious display? Does the town have the right to make any distinction or value judgement about the display?” Lawlor replied, “Where are you talking about? I think it makes a difference where it’s going up, so it depends, but I think most likely we’re talking about religious items.” Knickerbocker replied, “Not necessarily, which we’ll see in a minute. I’m talking about to what degree does a municipality have the right to enforce community standards, I guess is what I’m looking for, for displays that might be seasonal, or solstice displays that are not specifically religious?” Lawlor replied, “It’s difficult to say, there’s a lot of different court cases on that. A lot of them we take on a case by case basis. It’s kind of like the old saying, you know, you may not be able to define it but you’ll know it when you see it.” Lawlor continued,“It depends on a lot of factors, most of it is just common sense.”
THE HISTORY OF WHAT OCCURRED RELATED TO AMERICAN ATHEISTS
The name on the proposed banner, American Atheists (AA), is the organization whose attorney, Geoffrey Blackwell, mentioned a possible lawsuit to the Town of Bethel in one of several recent letters to Bethel town attorney Martin Lawlor. AA is representing a Bethel resident who contacted AA when his 11-5-18 application for a “Holiday Display (non-denominational) Installation and Ceremony” planned for 11-18-18 was not approved. Resident James Naddeo admitted in an online forum, at a later date, that he was the person who contacted AA.
Mr. Naddeo’s actions to pursue an outside source, in this case American Atheists, while the application process was still being handled, produced not only letters to town officials from the AA attorney Blackwell, threatening a lawsuit, but also several online articles and paper publication articles were published, putting the Bethel Board of Selectmen, Park and Recreation Department, and Town of Bethel a very bad light.
One article on “Friendly Atheist” was entitled, “Atheists Call for Bethel (CT) to End Religious Favoritism in Holiday Displays.” View article here.
Another article on “American Atheists” was entitled, “American Atheists Demands CT Town Stop Religious Favoritism in Holiday Displays.“ View article here.
JAMES NADDEO ATTENDANCE AT THE MEETING
During the meeting the applicant for the banner sign in question, James Naddeo, stood in the doorway of the BOS meeting, observing, but never indicated his presence or never came forward to give comment. Most people did not even know he was present. He left right before the meeting ended.
Photo: James Naddeo outside of doorway at Board of Selectman Special Meeting, November 26, 2018.
JAMES NADDEO’S EARLIER VIEWPOINT
Mr. Naddeo’s words observed recently on social media clearly indicated he did not approve of a Nativity displayed on government property. In one of his social media posts he said, “The town (government) shouldn’t get into the business of curating religious displays, nor should we open up public space for this type of thing.” and also, “Religious monuments or displays really don’t belong on town property.”
This is confusing because Mr. Naddeo is applying for a display on town property, with a display expressing thoughts about religion.
Mr. Naddeo then recently issued an “explanation” (he called it) in an online post, as follows:
Mr. Naddeo said things were being “intentionally misrepresented or unintentionally misconstrued” in which he claims, “I submitted an application to DISPLAY, not a petition to REMOVE anything.” He said, “the space should be open all faiths and groups celebrating these next few weeks, and the town should take ownership of that in the pursuit of inclusivity.”
Mr. Naddeo claims, “The reason I reached out to AA was to see if they had something to display for these types of multi-faith/non faith municipal displays, not to initiate legal action.”
Mr.Naddeo takes no responsibility for the words in Attorney Blackwell’s letters, and Mr. Naddeo explains it this way, “Their legal teams are an extension of their PR efforts – this is how they sustain donors and generate publicity by fighting these fights.”
These two viewpoints coming from Mr. Naddeo seem to be the exact opposite from one another and seem to be contradicting his original words that “a religious monument or display” does not belong in the square (town property).
We have contacted attorney Geoffrey Blackwell and are waiting for a response.
Knickerbocker stated, “Our goal tonight is to adopt a policy, a temporary policy for the season, that allows for inclusiveness. Supreme court rulings and lower court rulings have said that as long as there is an opportunity for others to display their cultural and heritage throughout the holiday season then there is no violation to the establishment clause to the Constitution. So that’s why we’re here.”
Knickerbocker said he drafted a proposal for the Selectman to consider, “after a lot of study.” They would consider the policy first, then the application (James Naddeo’s) before them, he said.
The new temporary policy was approved unanimously, and announced as follows:
The Town will consider applications for alternative displays on a case by case basis, using the following criteria:
1. Applications for display must be sponsored by a local religious or civic organization or local resident. Applications from outside agencies, organizations or individuals not residing within the Town of Bethel will not be considered.
2. Applications must be made using the standard Bethel Parks & Recreation use of facilities form, which may be found on the Town website.
3. Each application must include proof of liability insurance as well as a picture or diagram of the proposed display. If a printed message is to appear, the exact wording must be included with the diagram. Excessively large displays may be rejected if they could pose a hazard to public safety.
4. The space assigned for holiday displays is limited to P. T. Barnum Square. The main lawn of the C. J. Hurgin Municipal Center is not available’.
5. Displays and messages must not demean, defame or attack any other display, religion, culture or group. We value our citizen’s right to display holiday messages that reflect their cultures and traditions, whether religious or secular, but we encourage those messages to be positive in nature.
Pending the creation of a more comprehensive policy and procedure, these temporary guidelines will allow Bethel citizens an opportunity to express their own holiday greetings in an inclusive and respectful manner.
Knickerbocker said, “It is very clear from court records that public displays, religious displays on public property can be permitted under certain conditions.” Knickerbocker indicated that the present creche “does not violate the separation of church and state.” He also stated there was ample case law to support this statement. He cited “Lynch v. Donnelly 1984.”
Knickerbocker also clarified that at the November 13th meeting they had two applications before them, one from the United Methodist Church, that was approved (for the Nativity) and one from another applicant (James Naddeo) that “was incomplete and not denied” and they “took no action on it,” he said.
KIND OFFER FROM BETHEL RESIDENT
A verbal agreement from Perri Anastasakis, owner of Famous Pizza, was brought to the attention of the Board of Selectmen as a possible solution to the controversy if there is no legal way to determine an acceptable outcome to the present situation. Instead of the Nativity being removed from the Town of Bethel forever, the Anastasakis family would allow the Nativity to be placed on their private property which is bordering P.T. Barnum Square, in front of their parent’s home.
COMMENTS FROM MEETING ATTENDEES (in speaking order, some are partial)
Danielle Monroe stated,“My concern as a resident is that if we are going to establish a policy to figure out a solution to this, whether it’s going to be all-inclusive or whether it’s going to be moving it to private property. If going to all-inclusive I would want to make sure it’s understood that that should mean all different representation of things would have people access to display things on the property. Residents should consider that.”
Kitty Grant, a member of the Bethel Planning & Zoning Commission, said, “I’ve lived here 48 years and I cannot remember a time when we didn’t come down to the Christmas tree lighting. To me it’s community, it’s not just faith. It’s the community coming together to celebrate a season.” She then asked why we don’t have a Menorah or Kwanzaa displays. “I have no problem sharing,” she said.
Larry Craybas, Chairman of the Bethel Board of Education, said, “What bothers me most about this issue is the intolerance demonstrated by the ACLU and whoever the aggrieved is. Ever since, and even before Sandy Hook, we have spent a lot of time helping kids understand that there’s a way to be kind to one another, that you have to be tolerant. You have to critically think about what you’re going to say before you say it. And we worked on this everyday. We have psychologists in the school, we have a Director of Special Education, and we really put in effort. We have a couple of committees to deal with these kinds of issues.“
Craybas continued, “And now to say ‘No, that’s got to go’ because somebody raised an issue, it’s counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish with kids and I take offense to that.”
George Go said, “I’m open to inclusiveness but I think we ought to place limits on it. Any display that denigrates our Judeo-Christian heritage, I think should be prohibited. We should maintain respect for what we believe.” The crowd applauded.
Robin Dowding said, “I really love Bethel. I don’t think Bethel has ever acted in an exclusive manner with anything that goes on in town. These people that have volunteered their time and their effort, and maintaining, storing this Nativity have worked very hard all year round to make sure what was going to be out in was taken care of. I would imagine, I’m not familiar with the process with the applications, I would imagine that there are certain rules as to size, the lighting, the setback from the road, so on and so forth.”
Dowding continued, “If it has been approved, this is no secret, the Nativity appears every year, this did not come out of the blue, it happens every year and whoever these volunteers are step forward every year and make this magic happen. I don’t know how it happens. I take issue with the fact that this claim was filed, almost, it felt retaliatory to when the new Nativity was being announced. I think it was done in poor taste, it was done mean-spiritedly, it did not provide specific intention on what the display was going to be, and had it been, I bet you anything it would have been accepted.”
Dowding said, “He had a whole year to do this. The first letter to the town came in on October 2017. We’re now in 2018. That’s over a year that this person knew,and had these feelings, and I’m not saying his feelings were wrong, but I think the way he went about it was very un-nice. That’s my gripe. I think the town would welcome anything with open arms. Having said that, you had to follow the rules. Get organized, figure it out, ask questions, you don’t reach out to a third party that can be very controversial for suggestions on their display. Reach out to other municipalities. Reach out to your constituents. And you don’t do it at the last minute. Peace out.”
Cynthia McCorkindale, a member of the Bethel Board of Finance, said, “I think of it as being more of a cultural, it’s a combination of religious and cultural, and I would bet that most people who maybe have no church or religious affiliation see it as that. I mean, peace on earth good will towards men, yes, it comes from that, but it’s a symbol more of community in general.”
McCorkindale said, “First we have to determine how the Nativity scene is EXclusive, rather than that we want INclusive, because that opens it up to, alright well, Kwanzaa people let’s put in a sponsored display, or whatever, this has come up now, it’s already almost Christmas, but where was this in the past hundred years, you know? So I think now that it’s important to understand that this is not explicitly about the birth of Christ as the Messiah, it’s about a season where people are kind to each other where there’s a little fresh baby in a manger … whatever… it’s just a thing, it’s nothing anti-anybody.”
Donna Bowman said, “I’ve lived in Bethel since 1986. I have three children who are now young adults, and they were all very disturbed here, that the controversy about the Nativity. We’ve gone there every year. They love it. They still choose to go even though they drive themselves or we take them. I’m thinking, we’re celebrating Christmas. What is Christmas? And I know a lot of people want to make it Xmas and take all the meaning out of it, when you do that I think what you’re left with is a lot of frustration, a lot of charge bills, over-buying, over-eating, and no real heart of it.”
Bowman continued, “And like it or not I know that we’re not all Christians, but we go back in history to when George Washington took the oath of office to when everyone in the Congress made the trek to what is now Ground Zero to the little stone church and prayed for this country and stated that if we wanted God to be with us and protect us and make things great, we needed to honor God. Now God doesn’t ask anyone. He asks, but he doesn’t insist that you honor Him, worship Him, or accept Him.”
Bowman said, “I find that the Nativity is actually a very unifying thing. We could perhaps move it to the grounds of the church, but then probably it would just be the people that go to that church that see it. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me to not have Christmas completely stripped of all meaning,and to be able to go to my town, my children, and we love it. Now if the people that don’t believe the way we do, keep in mind Jesus said love your neighbors, your enemies, do unto others as you would have him do unto you, so this isn’t spreading a message of hate. if we all follow that I think our world would be a much happier place, and I just hate to see God taken out of our town square. We haven’t gotten better as a nation, excluding God, and when I see all the town people coming together, Christmas carols, looking at the Nativity, talking together, I would hate to lose that. SoI hope we can figure something out.”
First Selectman Knickerbocker commented on Bowman’s statement and said, “The number one request from organizations was inclusiveness. It wasn’t to, nobody wrote to me and said, ‘That has to go,’ but how do we also participate in this. So I just, I think there was some misunderstanding of that point so I just want to make that very clear. So in other words, a lot of people agree with you on that.”
Fran Pulle said, “So in other words Matt, any group can have a display as long as they follow the protocol?” Knickerbocker replied, “Well that’s what the selectman have to decide tonight with the draft I’ve presented to us.” Pulle said, “We didn’t have separation of church and state until Thomas Jefferson became president. So for the founding of our country, very much church and state until Thomas Jefferson became president. And the third point I’d like to make is that’s public property (she pointed to the direction of the front property of the municipal) the town hall, the library, I never agreed to this art I see over here [laughter ensued] look for my poem in Bethel Advocate. I’m embarrassed when my family and friends come and they see that art. I’m thinking, ‘Who put that there?’ That’s also public property.”
Brad Koltz, Director of the Chamber of Commerce, stated, “I just wanted to clarify a couple of things as far as the Chamber’s view on the square and the Nativity, a two-part-time person organization. Last year it became quite clear that managing this property was very difficult for the resources that we had with the change in ownership of the new replacement. We put it to our board and I believe with one exception they said it really isn’t something we should focus on with WinterFest,and the Santa, and the Christmas tree, and you (motioned to the BOS) and we are very proud of the job that our tiny team is able to do. I haven’t had a single member of the chamber come and say we don’t want a Nativity scene in town or we don’t want it on pubic property, or had a single board member say that. I think we are unified and we appreciate having this tremendous tradition. I just wanted to go on record saying we support that, and inclusiveness of other appropriate festivities.”
Koltz said, “I have a suggestion. If we limit displays to legitimate residents putting up a display, and we limit, I mean the group that sent these letters out, DC or Jersey or someone, if we limit this to local, that’s a local voice that gets represented.”
Bryan Terzian, member of the Bethel Board of Finance, said, “First off I just want to say that I don’t envy you guys sitting up there. No matter what you do someone’s not going to be happy but I appreciate you guys taking this on, It takes a lot of courage. There’s a few points I want to make. And first off, this has nothing to do with inclusiveness. Okay of it was really about inclusiveness it would have been an issue a long time ago.”
Terzian said, “Okay this is coming down to timing, and that’s one thing I want to talk about,I have a couple of points to make in formulating your proposal or changes. It would be like me saying, ‘I want to sponsor a 5K on the same day that the memorial day parade goes off.’ Or, ‘You know what, I want to use the municipal on Food Truck Friday too, so you need to give me a space there.’ “
Terzian said, “This Nativity has been there for over 40 years, and its piece of real estate. I’m fine with other displays going upon public property. I have no issue with that,okay? But this is where this display has been for 40 years,soI think any type of permit should have a space requirement. And of at some point, the people who display this Nativity decide that they no longer want to do that, the next person in line gets the spot. We do that for various celebrations in town on things we do. No one is saying that you can’t put up a holiday display. There’s plenty of public property to do it on. Some great locations in town. But honestly that’s a small piece of real estate. And what are we going to do if a Satanists decide they want to put up a Satanic alter next to the Nativity? We’ll follow the rules!” You know, it just doesn’t work. Personally I’d like to see the nativity stay there, and that should be the only thing there. And that’s not saying that I’m not inclusive.” …”We can do it somewhere else, even downtown. And the other issue I have with it is just the timing and we need to be careful what precedent we are setting here. This to me is an attack on my faith. When I look at that nativity I don’t think, it is not a religious proclamation. I don’t see any signs saying ‘Jesus save,’ I don’t see any signs saying ‘Accept Christ in your life.’ Really just a historical.”…”I just feel like this particular event is an attack to minimize a very important thing to numerous residents in town.”
Phil Gallagher, former Bethel Selectman, said, “Just a couple of points, a very difficult job. As far as separation of church and state goes in Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson gets blamed for it but he actually didn’t do it. He had sent a letter to a church in Danbury, early in his administration, about a wall of separation but it actually had no Constitutional meaning. What brought separation of church and state in Connecticut, it was the Constitutional Convention in Connecticut 1818, and it just disenfranchised the one church that was basically a state church. Everybody has a faith to support. I won’t mention the church because I don’t want to have the spotlight on them today.” … “As far as the Supreme Court decisions, that didn’t occur until this century mostly because the Supreme Court began interpreting and applying the 14th Amendment, equal protection clause, to different situations, segregation or religious schools or whatever. So that’s one point I wanted to make.”
Gallagher stated, “The other thing was, P.T. Barnum was, I’d like to talk to Cynthia about, because he’s our most famous citizen. You know this famous expression, everybody in the world knows, P.T. Barnum’s favorite expression, I’m sure you all know it in this room, that, “There’s a sucker born every minute’ … he gets credit for it. Anyway you learn a lot about the history of Bethel if you read his biography.
Mary Shepheard said, “I think it would be great to have a display on the same piece of property that includes everyone so no one feels left out and doesn’t leave the town open to litigation. I feel that what has happened here was not neighborly and was petty and that upsets me because I consider myself an extremely tolerant person, I appreciate the hard work that people put in to things they care about and I don’t see the same effort happening on the part of people who want to have another display. That’s all I have to say. Peace, out.”
Tim Martin, who was part of the group that submitted an application, created and installed the new Nativity, said, “The whole reason the Nativity’s been there for decades and the reason so many of us had wanted to replace the previous set was really just to celebrate, for a positive message, and I have no problem with inclusion, you know, whether it’s a Menorah or Kwanzaa, there’s a process we have to go through, and I’ll tell you it’s not fun … but you go through the process and you get the right insurance, but whatever goes there needs to have that same intent. It needs to be for positivity, to be for celebration, and … regardless of your religion, or no religion, the whole point of the holiday is joy, peace and celebration. If you want to put up something that is your way of celebrating, that’s fine. But if your intent to put it up is just because you have the right to do so, if you want to put ten different things … the intent needs to stay with your religious beliefs, your joy of the season, not trying to just white wash it, and that would be my biggest concern.”
Martin continued, “A lot of the intent of what’s happened in the last week or two, I don’t think it’s for that reason, it’s to prove a point, you know,and not for a joyous celebration of somebody’s beliefs, and that bothers me.”
Billy Michael said, “A lot of us have spent a lot of time in P.T. Barnum Square. On March 17th we raised the Irish flag, on Columbus day we raised, and we even raised Casimir Pulaski the Polish flag. When we’re there on March 17th, are we excluding everybody else? This business of inclusion, it seems so farcical to me. We’re not excluding anybody that’s not Irish or Italian or Casimir Pulaski if you are Polish, it’s open to all. To me this business of inclusion is being gamed, and the fact that it’s the atheist, what’s the name of that group? The Legal Representation? There’s so much lawyering going on.”
Michael continued, “The ‘all or none’ idea comes forth. That property belongs to all of us or it belongs to none of us. I don’t know what committee of people in this town can sit up here and say we’re going to decide who legitimately is either a religion or an organization, who wants to celebrate the solstice, you may have new order Druids, we have an era where … people are trans-species now. There are men who want to be dogs. What I’m saying is, we have gone so crazy as a society to be inclusive, you can’t say anybody’s nuts. You’re going to confront a group that comes in here from out of town, they’re going to say we legitimately want to celebrate this holiday in a fashion that is so reprehensible and un-understandable to us, that we have to say you can’t be here. That’s the problem and that’s where the lawyering comes in. The billable hours. I really don’t see how you can set up a committee to decide who goes on and what is legitimate.”
Bob Legnard, a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, directed his question to the BOS and asked, “You’re here tonight, you are not going to rescind the permit that is submitted to the town for the creche?” Knickerbocker replied, “That was not going to be my proposal, no.” Legnard then requested that an article be entered into the record, entitled, “Knowing Your Rights in a Public Square.”
Legnard said, “I agree with Larry, you know, we have to all get along in this town, we have to live in this town. I don’t always agree with Billy Michael but I can spot Billy Michael anywhere and talk to him, and give him my point of view and he gives me his point of view, and we walkaway and we don’t agree with each other, but we at least listen to each other. And that’s what has to happen in this town, to listen to what the people in this town want. And the number of people sitting in this room tonight are saying ‘this is what we want, we want a public display of a creche that was created by five churches in this town’ and people who worked together to get the thing put together so it was presentable. The old one wasn’t always presentable because it was so old and worn. And maybe if we hadn’t looked to put our best foot forward with a new creche this all would not have happened. And I hate to say that is what happened but the notoriety wasn’t there until we tried to do something good. These guys that did something good ought to be commended.” Mr. Legnard then received applause from the crowd.
Twenty-plus-years Bethel resident Pat Daubert said, “This is a legal matter. It comes down to First Amendment, inclusivity, not just about Nativity scenes, it’s about freedom of speech and expression. There’s a lot of good policies, one of which, I mean … it’s over 40-something areas, it talks about the areas about where people can display, the process, the cost, the security, what’s acceptable, what isn’t, what is, and all of these things that we’re talking about, really it comes down to the legal definition following case law. I think the town has to make a decision, in my opinion, either we say no is no, and we don’t do it anymore, which I’m not in favor of personally, or we draft a good ordinance followed by some really good case law and models that have been throughout the country because we are not the first.”
Daubert said, “There are people, we have to be careful in this area, because some of the people, and I don’t know any of the players here, some of them like to raise Cain so they can sue us for millions of dollars, and that’s one of the things that we gotta think about. Do we want to enter this area? Do we just want to say no? Or of we are going to say yes, and we want these things, well we better darn do it right because otherwise we are going to get sued because that’s some of these people’s intention.” So I’m certainly in favor of hoeing the long road here but we gotta do it right and I think we can do it right, we gotta get good legal representation. I think there’s good case law, again, I don’t think we have to spend a ton of money, we can find the mistakes and progresses of others. I think we gotta take the emotion out of it, look at it from a legal standpoint and just charge forward.”
View videos and more photos of the meeting below.
(Video coming shortly, check back later.)
Photo: The picture shows a sign shown by by friendlyatheist here: “Bethel (CT) Officials Debate Presence of Atheist Sign Next to Nativity Scene” which could show the approximate size of the proposed sign for P.T. Barnum Square, or not, since it is the same visual design. We will discover the actual size at the next BOS meeting on Tuesday, December 4th at 7:00 p.m.