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Read What Bethel Residents Said; Religious Displays Final Decision Tabled at Bethel Board of Selectmen Meeting, Needs Legal Research Says BOS

Report by Paula Antolini, August 9, 2019, 7:41PM EDT

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (right) and Selectman Paul Szatkowski at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

On August 6, 2019 the Bethel Board of Selectmen (BOS) held a scheduled meeting whose agenda included “consideration of recommendations from the Religious Holiday Display Committee.” Residents were hoping to hear a final decision but the BOS tabled the decision to a later date.

The meeting began at 7:00 p.m. in Room A of the CJH Municipal Center. The standing-room-only crowd included approximately fifty individuals.

(Editor note: Check back for videos of meeting, coming soon.)

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker began with correspondence from the public. He did not read the letters to the attendees but summarized them. He said, “I just want to note for the record that Mr. Hillman wrote in favor of the Menorah.” Knickerbocker stated that correspondence came in late from James Naddeo, and that he had several points covered. “I don’t want to characterize it, he made several points in here, but one thing he says is he is not in favor of a lottery,”

Knickerbocker began with a speech and said in part, “There is one piece of misinformation, judging from what I’ve read from some corners of social media. The goal here is to not remove it. There is no law that says you can’t do this. Clearly many court decisions at multiple levels have supported the display of the creche and other things as a cultural icon and that can be done. What we have to figure out is how to be fair, because if you allow it, you allow everything. It is truly an all-or-none situation.” Knickerbocker said, “The Town of Bethel government is not trying to take anyone’s rights away.

What we have to figure out is how to be fair, because if you allow it, you allow everything. It is truly an all-or-none situation.” … “The Town of Bethel government is not trying to take anyone’s rights away.–First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker

Knickerbocker set meeting guidelines and asked that public comment focus strictly on the issue and policy at hand. He also indicated that a final decision would not be made that night or a vote taken because they, along with the town attorney Martin Lawlor (who was also present) needed to do more discussion and legal research on the issue.

A discussion and public comments followed about religious displays on public property in Bethel, CT. Public comments covered a cross section of opinions and numerous solutions were suggested concerning this complex and controversial issue, but most ideas needed to have legal issues reviewed. 

Some of the public comments in part, were:

Diane Brown:

“I just came to offer my support to represent others that feel strongly that the Creche should remain on the green and I agree with what you said about fairness about recognizing and respecting other people’s views who may not want to see the Creche but certainly [unintelligible] I’d really like to see the Creche remain in place for many people to enjoy.”

Rob Stowell:

“I preface my remarks with, ‘I really love Creches.’ We have three or four of them in our house ever Christmas season, set ’em up all over the place. We make our annual pilgrimage dow to the Knights of Columbus Museum which has wonderful displays, if you’ve never been there, by all means, I don’t even care if you’re Christian, go. It’s the best.

That being said, moved here in 1984 and that first holiday season, saw the Nativity set and I thought to myself, that’s odd, it’s on public land, it seemed [unintelligible] but yes it was a Creche. I don’t envy you. I hope tonight the wisdom of Soloman comes down on you, and you make a good decision, but I personally, being a Constitutionalist, I think it probably should be nothing. [Last sentence: unintelligible].”

Kitty Grant:

“I moved to Bethel in 1971 and that first Christmas season when I went downtown and saw not only the Creche but the celebration that happens, which is a non-denominational, people singing Christmas carols, having coffee and being together. I think it’s an absolutely beautiful sight. And I don’t mind sharing it, of course we should share it, with anyone else who would like to do it, but I think the creche should remain where it is.”

Former CT State Senator Toni Boucher:

In Hillman’s absence, Boucher read a letter from Bethel resident Bill Hillman to the BOS. You can read the letter here.

Nancy Ryan:

“Just in general for me in December I celebrate the Winter Solstice which is a celestial event that has happened since the beginning of time long before Christianity and Judaism etc. I choose to create a display at my house. I’d love to have a big sign on the green, I’m not sure if I would rather do that or not, for displays, that could become problematic at times.

I’ve noticed that in the Spring the shops along Greenwood Avenue are often painted and decorated. That still happens, I assume for Easter? Could displays be, and this is something to think about, could displays be spread along Greenwood Avenue? Included in P.T. Barnum Square but also in other places around town obviously private property, P.T. Barnum is town property, but I think there are a lot of other options for consideration, such as churches along greenwood Avenue.”

Darlene Woodman:

“Mr. Knickerbocker when you were speaking earlier, one of the phrases you used about the displays could possibly come to light where something is ‘grossly obscene,’ those were the words you used, ‘grossly obscene,’ and I think something that we have to consider is who would determine what was considered ‘grossly obscene’?

To me, a Satanic display on the town green would be ‘grossly obscene.’ To me a Pagan display on town green is something I would welcome. It’s something I believe in myself, whole-heartedly. You’re opening a whole can of worms on who is going to decide what is ‘grossly obscene.’ What’s obscene to me is not obscene to you. It’s just a fact of life so it’s just another can of worms to consider.”

John Hamlin:

“So I don’t know why we’re making this such a big deal. I mean, all or nothing is fine. You can include all, but they should be respectful to the religion. Like Ramadan doesn’t fall in December until 33 years have passed. Hanukkah doesn’t always fall during Christmas. It can fall the first week in December, it can fall the last week in December into January. So I would say if you are going to allow the public square to be used by religious organizations, at least do it during the actual holiday. And the word ‘holiday’ has become secular but it actually means ‘holy day.’

“I think you’re being disrespectful if you just allow a mishmash on the town square without respect to the actual religious need, and I think you can satisfy everyone’s needs by simply allowing them to display when that religious date is during the year.

“Now as far as the Supreme Court goes, as far as a Nativity scene, as long as you put Santa Claus and a Christmas tree next to it, you’re not in any violation.

“I just don’t want to see the town square, I mean I was raised in Bethel, I went to all the Bethel schools, and I don’t want to see the town square become a mishmash of protests, because as far as the atheists are concerned, they have 11 other months they can hang anything that want on that square. It doesn’t have to be during Christmas because to me that’s a protest, that’s not a display. Thank you.”

Donald Borsch Jr.:

Mr. Knickerbocker and Selectmen, I’ve been following this, I actually spoke at the June 20th. I have since changed my mind about the inclusivity for myself about this because I’ve seen nothing but ugliness and vitriol. It’s become quite ugly. I thought it was actually done in good intention but it seems to be done more in the manner of petulant children stomping their feet on the ground to get their way.

“To the fairness, to the fairness of public land to display a religious display and everybody knows, as I said before, Christmas is about Jesus, sorry, it’s about Jesus. Or, even as a Christian myself, I’m down with Hanukkah because salvation for me has come from the Jews. So I’m cool with Hanukkah. That would be fantastic.

“But the mindset that it’s so unfair, ‘All of the Christians get to do it so we get to do it. I’m going to stomp my foot on the floor until I get my way. I’m going to raise a fuss. I’m this small, small minority but by golly I’m going to get my way. If I don’t get my way, I’m going to threaten a lawsuit.’ It is juvenile, it is childish, it is reprehensible, and it is indicative of what’s happening in our society.

“For the atheists to say, ‘Well it’s not fair we want to have our display,’ as the previous commenter said, you have eleven months. Put something up on the forth of July and say, ‘Happy Birthday America! We get to be atheists because men and women that are better than us died so that we could be atheists.” I would totally support this.

“I don’t understand why it has to be about fairness and about this juvenile, child-like demand. The threatening and almost the coercion that I’m seeing going on from a small minority. As I said before Mr. Knickerbocker, the needs of the few never outweigh the needs of the many.

“Do as you will, please, obviously. Mr. Stowell, I believe, called on the wisdom of Solomon. I would call on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. But understand that whatever decision you make tonight is going to go one of two ways. You’re going to be looked at as the men who kept Jesus in Christmas or you’re going to be looked at as the men who took Jesus out of Christmas, in a town named ‘House of God.’ Wisdom gentlemen, and Godspeed.“:

Phil Gallagher:

“I’d just like to add a couple of comments. The last speakers, I thought, kind of hit the nail on the head.

“You know, you’ve got to look at tradition, the creche and the Christmas display. I’m almost 81 years old and as long as I’ve lived in Bethel it’s been on that green and it’s not only a religious display but it brings the town together with Christmas Caroling and the Chamber of Commerce with the lights, it’s a big day, a big week, season for the betterment of Bethel.

“We forget, we honor other traditions, as one of the speakers said, there are other times of the year. For instance, on Pulaski Day we’ve flown the Polish flag I believe. We fly the Irish flag in St. Patrick’s Day, the Italian flag on Columbus Day, though there’s people who would like to change that and make it something else, what is it, ‘Indigination Day’? And that will open a can of worms because who you going to honor that day? You going to honor the Mohegans? Or the Mohawks who drove the Mohegans off the bluffs at Block Island? or the Comanches who preyed on the people [laughter] you don’t know what’s going to happen, so are people with Columbus Day.

“For instance, I think one of the things that it said was, a motivation, which may or may not be so, of the incident which brought this to a head, the atheist display, may have been, people think it may have been done because, just to go with the Christians, I don’t know that for sure. But according to what I read on the internet atheist day is somewhere between March 23rd and April 1st, and that would be the time to display that banner.

“I mean, there are other things that come up during the year, other holidays that people may request. But I think if you stick to the time, the generally accepted time when that holiday will be celebrated, if it’s an atheist day it would be sometime in March, March 23rd and April 1st. And that would quickly settle the issue of how much room you are going to need on the green. You fly the flag of the Irish or the Polish or the Italians, or the Christians on their day, or the Jewish people when their major holiday is Yom Kippur. Is that true, their major holiday? I’m not sure.

“But in and around the thing you display more than one religious holiday for [unintelligible] group. Reason and common sense has to prevail and that I think is what you’ve got to go by as to the past practice and tradition and what’s generally accepted for the different holidays. So with that said I hope you come to a wise decision.”

Bob Legnard:

“I’m in favor of keeping the tradition of the appointing of the creche. The only suggestion to the Board of Selectman that I would make would be any decision they make to allow anything else in that park is that it honor something not detract from. And I was at first opposed to the atheists putting up a banner and I think that turned out okay. You know, it wasn’t what we expected it to be. It was a Happy Holidays, very positive, very positive.

“Bill Hillman’s coming back with a new Menorah idea, very positive, very positive. But let’s be a positive town. Let’s not be a negative town that tears things down. Let’s be a town that builds things up. Build up new traditions.

“We’re there, that P.T. Barnum park, we have a Doughboy standing there. That’s an honor to men who fought in the war. We paid, years ago, we paid for pavers to be put in that park to honor family members, to honor people who have built this town what it is. We want to keep this town what it is and not detract from it. Thank you.”

Mary Shepheard:

“What I like about this whole debate, and probably the one thing I did like is that it brought so many ideas out that weren’t being voiced before because people felt like they were in the minority.

People who are not here to represent themselves tonight that I spoke with said, you know, ‘I’m in a small minority of Hindus here in Bethel and I would really love to have my holiday, you know, what I appreciate about this season, on display on the green but I haven’t because the tradition has always been for the creche to be there.

And like Rob, I enjoy a good creche but at the same time I feel like it is fair to let our neighbors let their culture be on display as well. In the meetings we went over, ad nauseam, that the law is not always fair.

But we live in a small town where we have to, we’re going to run into our neighbors at Caraluzzi’s, like we have to be kind to one another and by keeping with tradition, I like tradition, it makes me feel comfortable but I don’t think that society is anyplace for comfort anymore and we have to make changes so we can grow.

“I would support an all-out lottery for the green that allows one display per year pending a completed application and paid-for insurance binder. Not a mishmash of displays, I think that would look tacky and I think that it looked nice last year, it looks nice with the creche. But again, I feel that from all the debates that have been had, you know that I identify as a Christian, the most Christian thing to do is to make room for others at the table. Thank you.”

Ann Huminski:

“There’s no reason they have to have it at Christmas. Like Mr. Borsch said, it seems like they’re trying to throw it in our faces on our holiday. Let them do it in March. Let them do it in whatever time they think is their best time. Let the Hindus do it in the Hindu time. I don’t think Christmas is a Hindu time if these people, Miss Shepheard said, was when they should have it. I don’t think Christmas is when Hindus celebrate. Let them celebrate when they do, we don’t mind, we’re all-inclusive. But why should we have it, I don’t think we have an influx of too many people that really want it at Christmas.

Let the creche stay and bring in whenever the Jewish holiday is, whenever the holidays are, we don’t mind that. I think what Mr. Borsch said was so 100%, and especially since those people came from out of town, like they were trying to make a point, just like everything else in this country.

Gloria Whaley:

“I told you I’m coming from a different point of view, it’s mainly space-wise. The area, the center of Bethel, is so small. And if we’re going to be allowing so many displays, because when you open it to everybody or anybody, you’re going to get not three, not four probably around ten because everybody will want to put a message during that time, because there is more people walk through during that time. So my thought was, how many questions would be, how many displays are going to be allowed.

“The other thing is clarification on the lottery, because it says here there will be a lottery if one of the displays is not chosen, next year it would be given preferential treatment. So there again you are giving preferential treatment. So is the lottery going to be only once and then it will go, how will it go? I don’t think that idea, in general, of the lottery, would work very well.

“And the other thing is that it is in fact we have Christmas, of Hanukkah in December, mostly, and those are the holidays most people celebrate and atheists could celebrate. There’s not even a sign, because it’s almost like making fun of the situation, or saying, ‘I really won, I really stuck there what I wanted to put, my message.’ It would be best of they display, they put their display, whenever they celebrate a real holiday.

“The other thing is I think it would be good to see where the other groups are coming from the outside because I don’t think the Satan situation that is starting to build up as well as the atheists, I don’t think those are grown on Bethel. They are coming from outside. That’s all.”

*****

Frances Pulle, Religious Holiday Display Committee member, read a partial summary of the committee’s recommendations to the Board of Selectman, and said, “It’s very important to me that you be able to arrive at a decision based on fact and see how we arrived at our decision, how we voted. And so, we did a lot of research and we discussed a lot of things. I wanted to write down the principles of Democracy, something I teach, and I wanted to itemize them here.

At the BOS meeting Frances Pulle verbally presented a summary of certain parts of the report to the BOS and Holly Heslin verbally presented a summary of other parts of the report. Pulle presented the following:

PLEASE NOTE: The following is NOT a group report. It was written by committee member Frances Pulle. It is Pulle’s attempt to summarize the work of the Religious Holiday Display Committee. The four recommendations to the BOS and the relevant Supreme Court rulings taken into account. It is meant to be a visual aid, a succinct ‘read.’ And of course, objective.

MEETINGS: 3/14, 4/25, 6/6, (members sworn in), 6/20, 6/27.

MEMBERS: Holly Heslin (chair), Tim Martin, Robin Dowding, Mary Shepheard, Aaron Vincent, Dianna Naddeo, Danielle Monroe, Frances Pulle

PRINCIPLES OF OUR DEMOCRACY (REPUBLIC) CONSIDERED

1.Majority Rule: ‘The Greatest Good for the Greatest Many. However, steps are taken to prevent ‘Tyranny of the Majority.’ This is done to protect individual liberties.

2. A policy MUST be ‘constitutional.’ Does NOT have to be ‘fair.’

3. Our judicial system is based on ‘Precedent.’ (rulings that came before).

4. New England is famous for its adherence to ‘pure democracy,’ i.e. the ‘town meeting.’ What THE PEOPLE THINK, WANT, ADVOCATE is PARAMOUNT!

5. 64.0% of the population of Bethel is religious. Compare this to 49.4% of the US population!

6. The ‘Establishment Clause’ and ‘Free Exercise Clause’ of the FIRST AMENDMENT somewhat conflict. Complete separation of ‘church and state’ is impossible, was never intended by the Founding Fathers.

RELEVANT SUPREME COURT RULINGS

1.American Legion et. al. v. American Humanist Assn. et. al. (aka ‘Bladensburg Md. case’) June 20, 2019, 7 to 2. Ruling: WWI (40′ high) Memorial Cross can remain on public land. Justice Alito noted that the cross has evolved into a SECULAR symbol. Removal may no longer appear ‘neutral.’ The presumption that the ‘monument’ is ‘constitutional,’ has historical importance replaces the Lemon Test.

2. Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984, 5 to 4, R. I. Ruling: Creche display did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Display not a ‘surreptitious’ effort to advocate for particular religious message. ‘TOTAL SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE NOT POSSIBLE.”

3. County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 1989. Ruling: Menorah (and Christmas tree & saluting liberty) that is OUTSIDE a government building is ‘constitutionally legitimate’ given its particular physical setting.

4. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971. Ruling: State should not get ‘entangled’ in religion by providing (supplemental) financial aid to non-public schools. This ruling gave rise to the ‘Lemon Test.’ This test is as follows: A display is permissible if a) it has a secular purpose, b) neither advances nor prohibits religion, c) no government ‘entanglement;’ is evident

***’CEREMONIAL DEISM’: This legal term refers to religious statements, practices, symbols that are deemed to be mere ‘ritual’ and, therefore, non-religious. They have cultural and historical significance. Besides the creche, these include ‘In God We Trust (US currency), ‘National Day of Prayer,’ ‘One Nation Under God’ (Pledge of Allegiance,) ‘God Save the US and this Honorable (Supreme) Court!

***Therefore, there is no LEGAL OBLIGATION to either ban religious displays from ‘town squares’ or permit non-religious displays. The latter however is usually done because towns/cities are threatened with lawsuits. Rulings in this particular area (as you can see!) are confusing to employers and laypersons alike. The best reason to have an inclusive policy? Town squares are tax-supported properties.

ADDITIONAL

1.Creche can be considered a PERMANENT display because it has been in the same spot 40 years. This makes the Bladensburg case (see above) even more relevant.

2. The display may not be edited for content. However, it must not be perceived as obscene, mocking, insulting by the average reasonable person.

3. Time frame considered: Day after Thanksgiving to first week in January.

4. Parks & Recreation would determine the placement of displays based on size, safety, logistics and total number displays.

5. It was repeated many, many times that the Crèche is heavy and awkward to move. It is on a ‘trailer.’ It is not a lightweight dollhouse. The figures must be positioned properly. Winter festivities take place at this site. Many people, including children, frequent these events.

6. A TOWN REFERENDUM should be considered because this issue is important to so many.

7. Anthony Orrico should have been replaced so committee would have nine members.

8. It should go without saying that display proposals are limited to BETHEL RESIDENTS ONLY!

*****

Chairwoman Holly Heskin discussed the process by which the Religious Holiday Display Committee to arrived at their recommendations.

Heslin said, “We met a total of, I think seven times, three or four of those were official, after we were sworn in. Looking at Pulle, Heslin then said, “We met a total of five times.”

“In those early discussions there was a lot of getting everybody up to speed about what was going on, what did we think was a religious display, how did we feel about religious displays. So there was a lot of give-and-take and a lot of discussions,” Heslin said. “The recommendations that our committee came up with was after vigorous debate, oftentimes very spirited debate. it wasn’t easy, in fact it, was very difficult. I’m not even sure that we came up with the right formula to recommend to the Board of Selectmen tonight, but it was the best we, as lay people, could do trying to take into consideration the laws we were really unfamiliar with, although we tried to familiarize ourselves about them, and taking into consideration what many people had said during public comments before our meetings listening to what people wanted.”

Heslin said she was aware of what was being said on social media so she knew about the debate. She also said, “I was here during the holiday season when there was that acrimonious time between the groups.”

“These recommendations we make to you tonight in the spirit of trying to compromise and to do the best that we can to honor tradition, to honor cultural experiences in our town, to honor the majority, and to honor newcomers and new ideas that, as in our global economy, we are funding that are popping up and maybe we don’t understand all of it but I’m certainly open to doing that.” –Holly Heslin

Heslin continued, “These recommendations we make to you tonight in the spirit of trying to compromise and to do the best that we can to honor tradition, to honor cultural experiences in our town, to honor the majority, and to honor newcomers and new ideas that, as in our global economy, we are funding that are popping up and maybe we don’t understand all of it but I’m certainly open to doing that.”

Holly Heskin spoke about the recommendations to the Board of Selectmen while referring to Fran Pulle’s created document:

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE BOARD OF SELECTMEN

*That holiday displays be allowed on PT Barnum Square and other data approved areas: YES: 6, NO: 2.

*That any area used for displays be divided as follows: 1/3 for ‘display,’ 2/3 for ‘traffic and movement’: YES 7, ABSTAIN: 1.

*That is the applications exceed the square footage of town property available in all displays would be entered into a ‘lottery.’ If a display loses out it will go to the ‘head of the line’ the following year: YES: 4, NO: 4 (tie).

*That pre-existing displays remained in the original spot of town improved land and remaining areas offer to new applicants buy lottery. P-E displays must repeat the application process: YES: 4, NO: 3, ABSTAIN: 1.

*****

After Heslin’s presentation there was continued discussion between the Board and Heslin as there were still numerous questions that needed clarification.

Selectman Paul Szatkowski gave input and asked if the debate was religious. “That’s the big question,” he said. “This is more of a cultural, historical event. Whether you take the menorah or the Creche, it’s a cultural, historical event.” Szatkowski said, “It doesn’t come out of this office saying you have to celebrate Christmas.”

Szatkowski talked about how he visited P.T. Barnum Square to see what everyone was saying, “How much space do we have there?” He mentioned various items on the square and also activities such as the horse drawn carriage, school coral groups singing, the arrival of Santa on a fire truck, and 15 businesses surrounding the square. “It keeps the community together,” said Szatkowski, “It’s a joyous season surrounding P.T. Barnum Square. has anybody ever objected to it? No. Even last year with that atheist sign up there, ah, it was a pain, but it sent the right message, ‘Happy Holidays.’ ”

“Is the Creche offensive?” Szatkowski said, “Absolutely not. Would a Menorah be offensive? Absolutely not. The question comes down, would a sign by the atheists be offensive? That’s a big question mark.

Szatkowski said, “The Constitution allows for many freedoms, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It does not allow freedom to denigrate others, intentionally or unintentionaly. And this is this issue in front of this Board of selectmen, what do we do with that one group?”

As far as the space, we’re limited. A lottery? I don’t know about that, that’s a roll of the dice.” –Selectman Paul Szatkowski

‘”The issue I keep asking myself is what do we allow this holiday season?” Szatkowski said. “As far as the space, we’re limited. A lottery? I don’t know about that, that’s a roll of the dice.”

“This really should be in the hands of the Board of Selectmen to decide,” Szatkowski said. “He’s the administrator (indicates Knickerbocker), Rich and I are the legislators. We’ve got to make the decision, I mean it comes down to that…that’s what people voted us in for.”“We have to make that decision, maybe some people won’t like us, too bad.

“If I would find somebody like the KKK coming in here or the American Nazi party, no way. This is the group (indicates the BOS) that’s going to say, ‘No, I’m sorry. That’s it.’ Okay? I think we can handle that.

*****

At one point Tim Martin, the Vice Chair of the RHDC joined in to the discussion with the BOS and town attorney Martin Lawlor clarify a topic about the timing of different displays.

Tim Martin said in part, “In December if a group were to apply to put up an Easter message would common sense say, ‘This doesn’t belong at this time,’ not that we would never permit an Easter message, but not in December, especially of we have substantial other applications that are timely for the season and for the number of space. We’re not pushing out messages but we are really saying, ‘Is this the right time for this or Ramadan in August or Christmas in December.’

“Nor would I recommend when somebody recommends putting the Creche up in July, which I don’t think would be appropriate and I would expect the Board of Selectmen to say, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ Or putting the Creche on for four months to celebrate the December holiday, it doesn’t make sense.

“So I guess my question, more piggy-backing on your question for attorney Lawlor is, there has to be some discretion that makes sense, that the Board ultimately, you guys are going to be faced with a tough decision when the application comes up, is being made not from an exclusionary point of view but you know, with that type of thought process.”

“How the New York City getting away with a Nativity set in Central Park in the same spot every year? And how is DC getting away with a Menorah in the same spot year over year, which I am sure has been challenged by minority groups…” –Tim Martin

Martin also asked, “How the New York City getting away with a Nativity set in Central Park in the same spot every year? And how is DC getting away with a Menorah in the same spot year over year, which I am sure has been challenged by minority groups, and how we use that same thought process or laws, without having to invent the wheel, to apply to our small little green here.”

Martin Lawlor replied, “First off, the issue was originally, it wasn’t the issue of whether or not we could have a Creche there or some other religious item. The issue came up because someone who is not religious wanted to out something up at the same time. That was when the problems began.”

“First off, the issue was originally, it wasn’t the issue of whether or not we could have a Creche there or some other religious item. The issue came up because someone who is not religious wanted to out something up at the same time. That was when the problems began.” –Town Attorney Martin Lawlor

“I don’t have any problem with the Creche being there, alright?” said Lawlor, “My problem is how are you going to distinguish between the different things that come to call. You know, who’s to say who’s the bigger religion to have the item in there. Who’s to say someone who doesn’t want to use it not for religious purposes, but just for other purposes. The Chamber’s used it before. What happens if they come forward or someone comes forward with a program that they wanted to use part of the green during the same year? wanted to put something up at the same time of year? Who’s going to make that decision? That’s my problem. That’s the problem. The problem that there’s going to be a Creche there or a Menorah, pr anything like that. My problem is trying to distinguish. And that’s the problem.

In the end of the meeting Knickerbocker said, “There’s one thing I don’t want to do is recommend to you, anybody in this town, that we spend tens of thousands of dollars on a legal case, that is the same legal case as litigated over and over and over for the last 50 years. That puts us right back in the same territory. And maybe we gain and maybe we lose. What have we gained if we spent 50,000 bucks or 100,000 bucks litigating a case. We’re trying to be inclusive and as I said in the beginning, some people might not like it. And I wasn’t talking about people who don’t like the Creche. I was talking abut people who might not like what the other message says or what it represents. They might not like it.”

Selectman Richard Straiton had a question about the precedent, and said, “I know that the Creche has been there for 40 years but the atheist has been there for one year, does that become precedent?

Chairwoman Heslin replied, “The Committee had to have some compromise otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to deliver anything to you. So that was the one compromise.”

The Board of Selectmen then unanimously voted to table the decision “pending some further discussion and clarification from the town attorney.”

*****

VIEW MORE PHOTOS:

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (center), Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) and Selectman Richard Straiton (right) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Holly Heslin (center, in pink shirt), Chairwoman of the Religious Holiday Display Committee, reads the recommendations made by the committee to the Board of Selectmen, at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (right) and Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Former Senator Toni Boucher reads a letter by Bill Hillman (in his absence) to the Board of Selectman at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Part of the audience at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Holly Heslin (center front), Chairwoman of the Religious Holiday Display Committee, reads the recommendations made by the committee to the Board of Selectmen, at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (center), Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) and Selectman Richard Straiton (right) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Donald Borsch Jr. gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (center), Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) and Selectman Richard Straiton (right) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident John Hamlin gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, at the CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (right) and Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Donald Borsch Jr. gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Holly Heslin (left) reads recommendations of the Religious Holiday Display Committee to the Board of Selectman as other attendees watch, at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (center), Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) and Selectman Richard Straiton (right) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Selectman Paul Szatkowski at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Meeting attendees chat as they wait for the meeting to begin at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Phil Gallagher gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Attendees (left to right) Donald Borsch Jr., Jon Menti, Bill Ochs and Will Duff at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Rob Stowell gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker (center), Selectman Paul Szatkowski (left) and Selectman Richard Straiton (right) at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Frances Pulle, Religious Holiday Display Committee member, reads recommendations to the Board of Selectman at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Tim Martin (center, rear) gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Tim Martin (right) reacts at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Bob Legnard, Bethel Planning & Zoning Commission board member, gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel town attorney Martin Lawlor (right) gives input as attendees listen, at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Bethel resident Kitty Grant, Planning & Zoning Commission member, gives public comment at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

Meeting attendees listen to Bethel resident Frances Pulle, Religious Holiday Display Committee member, as she reads recommendations to the Board of Selectmen at the Board of Selectman meeting on August 6, 2019, CJH Municipal Center, Bethel, CT.

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