Our View: A celebration of unity and good will | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: A celebration of unity and good will

In a show of unity and ecumenical support, the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs is now home to a modern menorah created by Randy Salky, a member of Har Mishpacha, Steamboat Springs' Jewish community.

The large menorah, which is a symbol of the Jewish faith's Festival of Lights, was placed outside the Methodist Church on Oak Street after Routt County officials rejected a request to place it on the historic courthouse lawn on Lincoln Avenue alongside the lighted trees and Santa's hut.

The debate about the menorah was resolved peacefully, without threats of litigation, but we think it prompts a larger community discussion. As Steamboat Springs and Routt County grow and welcome a more diverse population, we think talk about where the menorah should be allowed provides an opportunity for this community to broaden traditional holiday celebrations to make them more inclusive and representative of all faiths and religions.

In denying Har Mishpacha's request, County Manager Tom Sullivan said his decision lined up with the county's history of not allowing religious symbols on the courthouse lawn. Commissioners Tim Corrigan and Steve Ivancie supported Sullivan's action.

Some members of Har Mishpacha said they believe the community views the lighted evergreens on the courthouse lawn as Christmas trees, but county leaders contend the trees are not religious symbols because they are lighted all year round. A Santa's hut also is allowed on the courthouse lawn in December and is viewed as a secular, rather than religious, holiday display. It is maintained by a group of local business owners.

It is not our intention to debate the legality of the county's decision. A review of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding religious displays on government property raises more questions than answers, and we are not legal scholars. And according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the high court's decisions about holiday displays have "largely sidestepped setting clear rules that would assist lower courts in deciding future cases."

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Har Mishpacha Board President Bert Halberstadt said he reviewed case law and came to the conclusion that placing nonsecular and secular holiday symbols together on public property does not violate the First Amendment's prohibition against government favoring one religion over another but instead constitutes a community display of holiday good will.

And it's that kind of community-wide good will that we'd like to see result from this debate.

The menorah-lighting ceremony held Tuesday night on the Methodist Church lawn was a good start, but we think it needs to grow into a larger celebration.

Going forward, the annual Merry MainStreet celebration and parade might become the perfect venue where elements representing the Jewish community and other religions practicing here in Steamboat can be added and displayed. If a tree-lighting ceremony is held on the courthouse lawn every December to mark the start of the holiday season downtown, it seems only fair that a menorah-lighting ceremony be allowed in the same location.

If that's not possible, then we think the community needs to find another location where menorahs, lighted Christmas trees and Santa huts can be displayed together. Maybe the community center, where official government business is not conducted, is a better place for secular and nonsecular holiday symbols to mingle.

Har Mishpacha members intend to make their request to the county again in 2015, which gives the community a year to come up with a solution that embraces all religions and faiths and reflects this area's rich diversity and commitment to unity. We'd like to see a multifaith group, like Exploring the Sacred, take up this cause and begin discussions with city and county officials and Merry MainStreet organizers to explore the possibility of creating a new community-wide event or securing a new more neutral location where the symbols representing the varying beliefs that converge at the holiday season can be displayed.

At issue

The county rejected a request by Steamboat’s Jewish community to place a menorah on the courthouse lawn.

Our view

The debate about religious symbols has sparked a larger discussion about broadening the community’s traditional holiday celebration to include all religions and beliefs.