WOODLAND, WA (KPTV) - A nativity scene displayed at a public park in Woodland was moved to private property after a handful of complaints, according to the city.
Tuesday, the Public Works Department helped move the set from Horseshoe Lake Park to a privately-owned vacant lot at the corner of Goerig Street and Buckeye Street.
City leaders told FOX 12 they didn’t want to move the manger but made the decision after seeking guidance from the city attorney, who advised that keeping it on public property was a violation of federal and state laws.
“I wouldn’t have chosen to do this, but it’s in the best interest of the city to do so,” said Mayor Will Finn by phone Tuesday night. “The feedback I’m getting is that it’s in a better spot.”
Finn said he personally sought out the new location and permission from the property owner after the city received complaints about the display within the last week.
According to City Administrator Peter Boyce, the nativity scene itself is privately-owned, but the city has allowed it to be displayed at the park for the last few decades.
Finn estimates the manger has been set up in the park every December for the last 40 years.
Jenny Tingley was able to see the nativity scene from her home and was surprised and disappointed to see it removed.
“Our grandkids love it when they put little baby Jesus out,” Tingley said. “I didn’t think it was offensive at all. I thought it added to the look of our town when it’s the holidays.”
“I’m just sorry that people got offended by it, because we enjoy it – everybody we know enjoys it,” Tingley added.
Boyce said he’s unaware of complaints in years prior, but said the city recently received about five recent complaints.
Marc McVey said he sent emails to city leaders Sunday.
“I wrote the mayor and the city manager and said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure if this is keeping with what the law allows,’” McVey said.
McVey said he reached out after visiting the park and seeing the nativity set up in what he suspected was a public location.
“They responded to me today and said they moved it – it was a difficult decision, which I respect,” McVey said. “Believe me, I’m not anti-religious. I think it’s great, I love this holiday season – I have a Christmas tree up myself, but it just made me a little bit uncomfortable to have that on public land.”
McVey said he’s happy with the city’s response.
“That’s a fantastic compromise – it’s still visible so people can enjoy it,” McVey said.
But with the move, came another round of new backlash: Boyce estimates the city has received about 50 complaints and inquiries from people upset to see the nativity scene removed from the park.
Mayor Finn sent a statement on the decision, which reads in part:
“As one of the city caretakers, I believe the move was the best for the city and for all of us…. I personally see the nativity as a symbol of Christmas and feel comfort when seeing it displayed. I’m also grateful for the community’s understanding of the difficult but important decision…This move… puts the nativity in a more visible location within our city, while respecting the public nature of public property.”
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