Letter from the Editor: The Christians Have Rights Too, Lest We Forget

Report by Paula Antolini, November 12, 2019, 2:36PM EDT


P.T. Barnum would likely be very amused with the CIRCUS that is now happening regarding religious displays on P.T. Barnum Square in Bethel, the square named after him, and how the Board of Selectmen is handling matters.

As I covered this story, I realized that the reasoning had become so one-sided that no one is thinking about the rights of the believers who support and worship what the Nativity represents, the birth of Jesus.

Elephant in room: How can there be judgement that allows individuals to place signs in front of, or near, an image that is the most valued image of the Christian religion, and signs placed that mock the Christian beliefs and pretty much disrespects the holiday that these protesters don’t even celebrate? (RE: Wishing “Happy Holidays” for something they oppose.) How can opponents say they are not being “included” in something they have no connection to, and in fact they protest? This is insanity.

The twisted reasoning that has occurred during the meetings is also astounding. Conversations were observed about the Nativity making it as insignificant as if you are trying to decide where to park your car. People fighting over one triangular piece of real estate as if it is the Gaza Strip. Is anyone paying attention here? No I guess not, because no one attends meetings it appears, for one.

The Board of Selectmen is no better. At least Selectman Richard Straiton made the difficult and heartfelt decision to not allow any displays because he had enough intelligence to know what was to come if you allowed all displays, but he was outvoted. And remember we have an offer from a Bethel resident, that still stands, to place the Nativity on his family’s property that faces P.T. Barnum Square, in the event no displays are allowed on public property. So there’s one easy solution, but the selectmen ignored this request when making their decision. So in other words, an easy-out to NOT have to eliminate the Nativity completely because there was a private property solution.

Now we have this fiasco happening, and First Selectman Knickerbocker won’t even allow public input at a meeting tonight where they might announce who the display applications are from and what the display designs are. Is this transparency? Or are we at post-election? He seemed to have had a lot to say on social media pre-election, now crickets. So basically the public has no comment allowed during the final decision on religious displays, at all. Is this the town you want?

This controversy about religious displays on public property has been going on for several years now, heightened in the 2018 holiday season when Atheists demanded that a sign be placed on the same location where a Nativity has been placed for 40 years, because they wanted “inclusion.”

A few of them dug their feet in at the Religious Holiday Display Committee (RHDC) meetings, where they became members, grabbing every law that said they are a religion, despite their own website saying they are not. The American Atheists website states, “Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods. … Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.” So why are we entertaining “religious display” banners then? Also, banners are “of any type” are banned in Bethel according to the Bethel Charter under “G. Prohibited Signs.”

The opponents fought for the right to be “included” in a celebration by erecting a banner for religious holiday they do not believe in nor celebrate. Does this make sense to you? So what are their motives then?

Now this year, despite their banner being approved, the Atheist supporters still insisted things are not fair, and pressed for a “lottery” system to be held if there were more than 3 display applications submitted in 2019, which could eliminate the Nativity display completely. One opponent, on the religious display committee, referred to the Nativity possibly being “bumped” in a lottery and said it would “only be for a year.” Christmas without a Nativity (but numerous other unrelated displays in its place). Let that sink in.

Of course now the town is facing 5 applications, the Nativity, Menorah, Atheist banner and 2 secular unknowns, which was confirmed by First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker today with some arm twisting, but no detailed information revealed. He said he “could not remember” the other two religions of the displays submitted.

The few residents who did attend the RHDC meetings spoke about being shocked or disturbed to see the Nativity on public property in the town they live in, or to which they recently moved. One individual spoke about removing a swastika from a train station sign, as if that was equal. One committee member gave an elaborate speech at a BOS meeting supporting Atheism but was still chosen for the religious display committee despite her extreme agenda.

Anti-religious-display words were being secretly posted on Atheist-related Facebook pages, and some on public forums too, throughout the controversy, by the person who submitted the Atheist banner application. His story would change a lot as the controversy progressed.

Last year a letter was sent to town officials by an attorney for an Atheist group, after that applicant had contacted them for “sign design advice” he said, threatening to handle matters “judiciously.” He denies there was a threat even though the attorney letter is clear on that. Another supporter worked behind the scenes talking to officials to convince them to have a lottery until they gave in. We believe all of this had a huge effect on the reaction of the selectmen.

Someone needs to stand up for decency and respect and I guess that is all of you. Do not stand for the disrespect of a display that represents Jesus and everything the majority of people in Bethel believe in, when there are many viable alternatives to solve this protest. But the selectmen seem to not care what you think. They have silenced you, yet allowed others to intrude on a solemn holiday these opponents care little about.

This has become more of an Atheist/secular political statement than it is a right to believe as they wish. No one is pushing their beliefs away but they are certainly disrespecting Christians. Ditto on the Bethel Board of Selectmen. They have forgotten that they represent ALL the people, not just some. Why are they not paying attention? They conveniently stretched this decision past the election but now that the election is over what’s the excuse to not allow people to speak? This is NEW information we are receiving tonight and people have a right to be allowed input.

Again, why are non-believers allowed to force their way into a cherished Christmas celebration and say they are not “included” when they care very little about this celebration? Why are they represented on the square at all during a religious holiday? Because they DON’T believe in it? Crazy stuff, that. Why can’t their political statement be displayed on another public property in Bethel if they insist on doing it at the same time as the Christmas holiday? Surely there are plenty of other locations available for their celebrations. Or the same location, but a different time of year. They don’t celebrate Christmas, why are they insisting on signs NOW?

It is important that people be recognized for their beliefs but this hardly seems to be the case if the only location acceptable is one tiny little spot that celebrates THIS holiday. What is it that opponents want you to know? That they have a right to have a right to disrespect another at all costs during a particular holiday? This is so political.

The issue is with the proximity of the displays to opposing displays, making it disrespectful, and the timing of the secular or other displays, not having anything to do with Christmas. Period. Why has this been left to go on?

We are not bothering the secular people why are they bothering Christians? People have a right to worship as they wish but to wedge yourself into a celebration and cry “no inclusion” when you play no part in that religious belief, is mean-spirited and wrong.

Then to be stifled from talking about it at tonight’s meeting is outrageous.

And no wonder people are moving away from Bethel and businesses are not moving to Bethel. Soon this will either be a ghost town, or a traffic nightmare town, but definitely the laughing stock of the nation as the ludicrous nature of having to have an anti-religion sign displayed each time a religious display is placed on the same public property, is revealed nationwide, as it was last time.

Voice your opinion.

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