Ellwood City's Nativity display to move from borough site to private property
Ellwood City will have a Nativity display this year, but on private property about a quarter-mile from the borough building where the creche had been a holiday fixture for 50 years.
A religious freedom group from Wisconsin had threatened to sue the Lawrence County community last year over placement of the creche on borough property.
Ellwood City residents, frustrated that outsiders were trying to dictate what they could do, wanted the town of about 8,000 people to fight any lawsuit and keep the creche where it was. But town officials decided they faced an unwinnable fight.
Attorney Joseph Bellissimo of Ellwood City said he will put up a Nativity display outside the former St. Agatha's Roman Catholic Church, which closed about five years ago. Bellissimo and business partner Gene DiMeo bought the building and plan to open a restaurant inside. Bellissimo, 43, said he is paying for the new display.
“It's not about the money,” he said. “I think it's important because a lot of the people who were upset, I think they can take comfort in the fact that council didn't just walk away. They were looking for alternatives that would be acceptable by both the community and the borough. I think this is a good compromise.”
The new Nativity scene will be introduced at 2 p.m. Dec. 2 in a ceremony outside the former church at Fifth Street and Spring Avenue.
Some residents said they still are upset that the borough did not take on the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis., in court.
“It's been there forever,” Debbie Freshcorn, 57, of Ellwood City said of the display on the lawn of the borough building. “It wasn't even someone from town complaining. Who was it bothering anyway?”
Foundation Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said on Thursday that her organization has never opposed religious displays, only that they cannot be on government property.
“We're not going to churches and dragging people out of pews or knocking over crosses on private property,” Gaylor said. “But the government can't get behind (a display).”
Bellissimo said borough manager Dom Viccari approached him about putting a manger at the former church, since it's a heavily trafficked area. Bellissimo quickly agreed.
“I've taught my five children never to be embarrassed of their Catholic faith and be proud of it and live it. It's important as a parent to stand up for what you believe in,” Bellissimo said.
Viccari said the former church will be “a perfect backdrop.”
Council member Glenn Jones said research shows that communities fighting First Amendment lawsuits over religious displays have lost, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.
“We didn't want to take that chance,” Jones said. “We were looking out for taxpayers' money.”
Ellwood City Mayor Anthony Court said the creche should be at city hall.
“The next step was to take them on in a court of law. I believe council lacked the courage, unlike the community and the rest of us,” Court said.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or email@example.com.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins rally late but lose to Panthers, 4-3, in shootout
- Steelers film session: Playoff off coverage holds off Chiefs
- Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium schedules six-week closure
- Dixon says starters playing too much for Pitt basketball team
- McKeesport graduate Brown has found his role for Boston College
- Changes abound at Uncle Charley’s Sausage, but taste isn’t one of them
- Pitt recruit Whitehead remains committed
- Pirates win bidding for Korean infielder
- Steelers linebackers are getting to quarterback with more regularity
- Penn State strolls to 69-49 victory over Dartmouth
- High school roundup: Mt. Lebanon edges Bethel Park girls in overtime