Ellwood City creche finds home at former church after threat of legal action
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012
As Ellwood City Mayor Anthony Court stood near a figurine of baby Jesus on Sunday, a pastor quietly urged him to set aside his bitterness over the handling of a controversy surrounding the borough's former Nativity display.
Court was not ready to turn the other cheek.
“It doesn't sit well with me,” Court said as more than 100 people assembled in the rain along Fifth Street to celebrate the placement of a new creche outside a former church being redeveloped as a restaurant.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation had threatened to sue Ellwood City over the placement of a creche outside the municipal building, its holiday home for more than a half-century. Borough council voted 4-2 last December to remove it rather than wage a potentially costly legal battle.
“For those people to come into our city to oppose what has been a lovable tradition for more than 55 years, I think it's just wrong. I think our council lacked courage to not stand up to them,” Court said before a ceremony to bless the new creche at the former St. Agatha Roman Catholic Church.
“They may be able to change to change our spot, but they can't change our beliefs,” Court said.
Ellwood City Councilwoman Judith Dici said her vote to remove the creche from borough property was a difficult one that many people received poorly.
“No one wanted to move it, but as a councilwoman, I'm a caretaker of the borough's money. I couldn't in good faith vote to fight a battle that our solicitor said was a no-win,” said Dici, who attended Sunday's ceremony.
Local attorney Joseph Bellissimo, 43, said borough officials approached him about placing a creche outside the former church, which he bought with business partner and attorney Gene Dimeo. Bellissimo said he paid for the 12-piece display but declined to reveal how much.
“This isn't about the money. Ellwood City is a town that's going to show its faith,” Bellissimo said after handing out red-and-white yard signs to attendees that read, “Ellwood The City With the Nativity.”
Those on hand said they were thankful for the new creche.
“I'm bitter it can't be where it was for 50-plus years, but people are here because they want to keep Christ in Christmas, and that's a good thing,” said Mike Parisi, 54, of Ellwood City.
A Freedom From Religion Foundation leader said on Sunday that she was satisfied with the outcome.
“We're very pleased this got resolved in a way that upheld the First Amendment and the separation between church and state,” foundation Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “We have no objection to displays on private property. As far as we're concerned, this is a happy ending for all.”
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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“They may be able to change to change our spot, but they can’t change our beliefs,” Court said. - This is how misinformed the religious community is. They are told and taught that atheists and the like are anti-religion and anti-god when this is farther from the truth. The majority of atheists do not care what your personal beliefs are and could care less that you practice them. What they care about is that their tax money, and their government chooses to put THEIR religious beliefs before everyone else in a government setting. In this case where were the Jews represented? The Buddhists? The Pastafarians? The point is equality. This mayor is beyond misinformed, no one wants to change your beliefs!
Submitted by: Sam on Monday, December 3, 2012
I am glad to see it resolved and it is a happy ending for all. The 100 vocal Christians have their display to look at and worship, while the other 7700 residents, who could care less, can ignore it and move on to more important issues. Fighting a constitutional battle that they were sure to lose is a waste of taxpayers dollars, which the City Council, but not the mayor, realized.