At a time when many newspaper writers seem to completely miss the point of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it is a breadth of fresh air to read the take of columnist Eric Poole from the Ellwood City Ledger in Ellwood, PA.
You may recall the Ellwood City was informed a few years back that its municipal nativity scene on city property was illegal. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that Allegheny v. ACLU was the definitive 1989 ruling in neighboring Allegheny County, which said religious displays on private property are fine, but religious displays on government property violate the separation of state and church.
So what is the latest twist on this story? Poole recently wrote:
When Danielle Morabito opened her mailbox Thursday, she didn’t expect to become the victim of a hate crime.
So she was surprised about it. Morabito, who lives in Ellwood City’s Ewing Park neighborhood with her fiancé, Joel Stinson, said someone claiming to be one of her neighbors put a letter in her mailbox asking her to remove “idols” and “pagan and gay pride flags” from her yard.
He goes on to say:
Morabito and Stinson are Christians – they also have a cross in their front yard – but they respect such Eastern traditions as the use of meditation. They have a Zen garden in the back yard, not visible from the street, and several Buddha statues, some of which can be seen from outside the property.
Contrary to the letter writer’s assertion, the flags have nothing to do with “gay pride” – even though Morabito and Stinson are in favor of gay rights. They’re Tibetan prayer flags, similar to the banners that mountain climbers of all faiths place on Himalayan peaks out of respect for the Sherpas who provide invaluable assistance during expeditions in the world’s highest mountain range.
Not that the nature of the symbols matters.
Because in the absence of harm to anyone else, property owners have the right to adorn their residences as they desire. And, no, that doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want with your property. There are, and should be, laws against stuff like running a porn shop next to a school or construction that increases runoff into your neighbor’s basement.
Summing it up nicely, Poole added:
Y’see, while representatives of the Freedom From Religion Foundation were threatening to sue Ellwood City three years ago to have a Nativity display removed from in front of the municipal building, they repeatedly said religious displays belong on private property, such as churchyards.
Or on the lawns of residents.
Evidently, the Wisconsin atheists practiced more religious tolerance than did the letter writer.
Well said, Eric. It is a point that is often mistaken as we can see in other coverage of recent state/church controversies:
Writing “Jesus Welcomes You” on a church is fine. Writing “Jesus Welcomes You” on a city-owned billboard is unconstitutional.
Preaching “Wouldn’t The World Be Better If Everyone Behaved Like A Christian” as a private citizen is fine. Preaching “Wouldn’t The World Be Better If Everyone Behaved Like A Christian” as the police chief is unconstitutional.
And, putting whatever you want within zoning requirements in your backyard is not government speech. Put whatever you want ’cause it ain’t nobody’s business if you do.