Ellwood City creche finds home at former church after threat of legal action
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.
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.
- Pa. agency re-examines Supreme Court justice’s emails
- Pennsylvania senator’s statewide solution to regulate taxi, ride services gains steam
- Pennsylvania university enrollments continue to decline
- Audit: Work of adviser in Pa. Dept. of Education hard to pin down
- Pennsylvania teachers union membership slides