Report by Paula Antolini, August 22, 2019, 11:58PM EDT
Bethel could soon be under siege, according to instigating words from a writer and former high school math teacher from the suburbs of Chicago, who is urging others to flood the town of Bethel with holiday display applications in order to increase the odds of the Nativity being eliminated.
There would also be a possibility that an atheist and/or Satanic display could be installed in Bethel and the Nativity display NOT be installed, if a lottery takes place as the new selection process. The new Bethel policy states that the selection method is a random lottery for ALL displays if demand for displays installation outnumbers spaces, among other rules.
Presently we know there are three spaces available in P.T. Barnum Square and three individuals who most probably plan on submitting applications, so it’s pretty much assumed that one (and more) additional applications will dictate a lottery.
A website named “Friendly Atheist” has been following and reporting on the Bethel, Connecticut religious displays issue since last year. It is easy to see whom they are supporting (Hint: it’s not Bethel.).
Perhaps this time the words are a bit over the top.
In the article entitled “Despite Benefitting from City’s Holiday Display Policy, Atheists Demand Fairness” dated July 14, 2019, Mehta criticizes Bethel officials and says that “local officials have no clue how to follow the law … they’ve repeatedly bungled this issue … they’ve offered the wrong answer three separate times in the dumbest possible ways.”
This same article refers to a statement by The Satanic Temple’s Lucien Greaves, who said, “Creating a Satanic display for Bethel will be a particularly enticing project if it turns out that it will help us to help the town resolve any contention that might arise from anything less than a fully neutral public forum policy.”
“Creating a Satanic display for Bethel will be a particularly enticing project if it turns out that it will help us to help the town resolve any contention that might arise from anything less than a fully neutral public forum policy.” –The Satanic Temple’s Lucien Greaves
The latest article dated August 21, 2019, entitled, “Bethel (CT) Officials Finally Agree to Fair Lottery for All Holiday Displays” includes a statement by Mehta that reads, “The Board of Selectmen decided they would permit all displays this year … and if there were more applications than spaces, they would hold a lottery for everyone. It’s finally treating everybody equally, and there may very well be a scenario where a Satanic display gets chosen while the Nativity scene gets left out.“
It now appears that a plan could be hatched to flood the town with numerous applications to increase the possibility of the Nativity not making the cut. Imagine a Christmas without a Nativity in our town. Removal of the Nativity could have been the original goal all along, some residents have stated.
This is a far cry from the “equality” and “inclusion” and “diversity” the supporters of atheism have been crusading for in Bethel, people are saying on social media and in person. In fact, it appears like an attack plan, they said.
“Beautiful. Now the fun begins. I would encourage every atheist, Satanic, Jewish, Muslim, and other non-Christian groups in the community to have local members fill out the application and see what happens. This is what the Selectmen wanted, so give them the displays they crave,” Mehta wrote.
“Beautiful. Now the fun begins. I would encourage every atheist, Satanic, Jewish, Muslim, and other non-Christian groups in the community to have local members fill out the application and see what happens.” — Hemant Mehta
It now appears that the Bethel Republican and Independent Party leaders could possibly take action to improve the situation. This could be in the form of requesting a Special Town Meeting to change the policies created and approved by the Bethel Board of Selectmen at the BOS meeting on August 20, 2019.
UPDATE August 23, 2019, 10:10am: According the BRTC Chairman Bryan Terzian, the Republicans and Independent Party officials are “looking into” actions to change the present situation regarding the policy decisions on religious displays made by the Board of Selectmen this week. “Yes we are exploring the possibility of calling for a petition for a Town meeting,” Terzian said, “It doesn’t matter what your affiliation is,” meaning anyone can sign the petition, he said. They would need approximately 600 signatures, he said, based on 5% of registered voters, a number of approx. 12,000.
The Bethel Board of Selectmen voted this past Tuesday, August 20th, to allow ALL religious and non-religious displays on public property in Bethel, namely, P.T. Barnum Square on Greenwood Avenue.
Applications can only be submitted by Bethel residents and only in a certain timeframe. If the square only allows for 3-4 displays then a lottery will be held for ALL displays if there are numerous applications. No displays from previous years are ‘grandfathered’ in or received special preference, despite the Nativity being placed in that same spot in the square for over 40 years. The new BOS policy has detailed rules for selection, size, placement, safety and insurance requirements as well as requiring a detailed rendering or photo of the display, submitted with the application. The Bethel Parks and Recreation department will oversee and decide upon some of the requirements if needed.
The policy the BOS recommended was based on research and discussions with other towns, attorneys and each other, and also recommendations from an appointed Bethel Religious Holiday Display Committee, First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker said at the Aug. 20th meeting.