Gig Harbor nativity drama adds another chapter

Jan 17, 2017, 5:33 AM | Updated: Feb 13, 2017, 2:29 pm

nativity, gig harbor...

The Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened the City of Gig Harbor with legal action over a nativity scene on public property. (secrettenerife.co.uk)


Two national special-interest legal groups have set their sights on Gig Harbor, preparing for a showdown between religious liberty and constitutional rights.

Gig Harbor skipped its annual nativity scene in 2016 after the city received legal threats from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Now, another national organization has set its sights on Gig Harbor and is prepared for a fight.

Related: Satanist group wants its clubs in public schools

“This is a standard pattern occurring across the country: a radical group will complain to the local government about a nativity scene in a holiday display, and the government will immediately surrender out of fear of legal trouble,” says Roger Byron, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute. “This is sad and flagrantly un-American. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that such a display is perfectly lawful and has been for decades.”

On Monday, the First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Gig Harbor arguing that the law is straightforward and simple. According to its interpretation, the city should have no problem allowing the nativity scene. It offered to meet with city officials to help guide them in the First Amendment issue — specifically on what is called the “Reindeer Rule.” The rule basically states that cities can host such nativity scenes as long as secular aspects are present, such as snowmen, reindeer, etc., according to First Liberty’s letter.

The First Liberty Institute is a legal organization dedicated to fighting religious freedom cases. If the Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to keeping church and state separate by making sure a baby Jesus is nowhere to be found on public property, First Liberty is its opposition — letting baby Jesus show up wherever he likes. Or at least, wherever American citizens like.

First Liberty promotes that it makes legal stands for all Americans, of all faiths, to practice their religion. Its cases are largely over Judaeo-Christian issues and in most instances, the organization files amicus briefs. The Gig Harbor issue fits right in with many of its past and current cases.

Northwest residents may recognize the First Liberty Institute from other high profile cases. It represents Oregon’s Aaron and Melissa Klein in the ongoing wedding cake controversy. The couple refused to make a cake for a lesbian wedding. It also has taken up the fight of Bremerton football coach Joe Kennedy, who caused controversy when he prayed with his players.

Gig Harbor: Legal battleground

Before the holiday season started in 2016, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the City of Gig Harbor. It argued that the city was violating the separation of church and state by allowing a resident to set up a nativity scene on public property.

The scene had been set up for years by Gig Harbor’s John Skansi. He set it up in a park named after his family.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said that if the city had no permitting process for such displays, it was favoring a religion. The city opted to skip the scene in 2016, and planned to address the issue in 2017 — most likely setting up a permitting process.

The matter sparked a controversy among Gig Harbor residents. First Liberty now represents Skansi.

Local News


Ted Buehner

This is why your phone alarm will go off Wednesday morning

A nationwide broadcast of the National Emergency Alert Test will be conducted by FEMA and the Federal Communications Committee (FCC).

6 minutes ago

Washington wildfires...

Bill Kaczaraba

UW prof.: Fighting climate change woefully underfunded

A University of Washington environmental professor says the federal government needs to dramatically increase money to fund research on how climate change impacts health. “We’ve systematically underinvested in this rapidly emerging health threat, and it has hamstrung our ability to respond,” said Dr. Jeremey Hess, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University […]

37 minutes ago

snow plow...

Frank Sumrall

Who will join Plowie McPlowface as Lynnwood snow plow naming contest returns

Some current snow plow names from previous contest winners include Plowie McPlow Plow, The Big Leplowski, Sir Plows-A-Lot and Betty Whiteout.

2 hours ago

lawsuit wrongful death...

L.B. Gilbert

Family settles wrongful death lawsuit with Seattle for $1.8M

The family of a man who died of a heart attack after first responders delayed responding to the incident has reached a settlement in their wrongful death lawsuit with the City of Seattle.

3 hours ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

Louie Tran, KIRO 7 News

Tacoma parents allege school workers physically assaulted children, including son with autism

A Tacoma mother and father accused workers with Tacoma Public Schools of physically assaulting their children multiple times, including the father’s son with autism.

3 hours ago

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during the introduction of the integration of Microsoft Bing sea...

Suman Naishadham, Associated Press

Microsoft CEO says unfair practices by Google led to its dominance as a search engine

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Monday that unfair tactics used by Google led to its dominance as a search engine, tactics that in turn have thwarted his company’s rival program, Bing.

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Gig Harbor nativity drama adds another chapter