Believe it or not, the last month has seen such a flood of letters, columns, e-mails and personal correspondence that it would be overwhelming to reproduce all of it in this space. Accordingly, I've edited some comments and left out others, but I have made an effort to maintain the intent of the original author. If you should have a complaint about anything on this page, e-mail me and I will look the matter over. Enjoy!

If the Tribune is paying Devon Stout for his columns, you’re wasting your money. I always read the Tribune’s Opinion & Comment page. . . . However, the next time there is a column from this guy, you can be sure I’ll pass it up.

I know we live in a country that guarantees us the right to free speech, but when he decides that the nativity scene at Meadville’s Diamond Park has to go, he can go live in Iraq, Canada, or wherever he wants to.



Devon Stout’s column is thoughtful and well-reasoned; it is considerate and gentle and positive.

There is no harsh judgment or criticism in it. It offers a rare opportunity for the community’s church leadership to allow: “We never thought of it that way before, but he is clearly correct. Let’s fix it!”



Devon Stout, who do you think you are? By whose authority do you speak? Do you really think you can take on God?

Some people have the foolish notion that they can “remove God” if the can remove any reference to him. . . .

Heed these words, Devon Stout: Much more powerful men than you have tried to “remove God.” History records how foolish leaders have tried to “remove God” by killing countless numbers of people who chose to die unspeakable deaths rather than deny God. . . .

Devon Stout has taken a bold step by wanting the nativity display removed from Diamond Park. It is now up to Christians in Meadville to see that this wicked and foolish notion does not come to pass. . . .

Let’s give Jesus a real gift this year. . . . Let’s get out of our comfort zones and show Devon Stout that he or no one else can “remove God.” Let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year.



I was surprised and saddened to find an opinion column in the Tribune in which Devon Stout thinks that the crèche in Diamond Park should be removed. He finds it objectionable and intimidating to non-Christians.

In other comments . . . he questions any Christian influence in the founding of our country and even the faith of individual founders. I think most historians would disagree. . . .

The Diamond indeed is public property—built mostly by Christians’ tax money, and maintained to this day by predominately Christians’ tax money. It seems reasonable, therefore, that Christians might have some small privilege there—all things considered. A strange idea has surfaced lately in liberal theology, that the majority have no rights in the public sector, only minority views may prevail. . . .



The nativity scene in Diamond Park is a delight to see. It represents joy and peave and love that we all need. Jesus came down to show us it is possible for people to live together in harmony, but we have to have love and trust in each other. Whether we are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists or whatever, we still need the knowledge that we are loved for ourselves. That is what the nativity scene should be to all of us. . . .



To Mr. Stout and all those who are troubled by the nativity scene in Diamond Park, I suggest you don’t drive by it; instead use Liberty Street or Park Avenue.

This would be the same as not watching a personally unacceptable TV show or listening to a disliked radio station. . . .



Although I am not a Christian, I enjoy seeing the Christmas decorations around town. The crèche in the Diamond would look lovely and be much more appropriate on one of the church properties that surround the Diamond. Then we could all enjoy it for what it is, a symbol of a religious holiday.



I am writing in response to Devon Stout’s column on removing the nativity scene from Diamond Park.

I am also writing in response to some of the retorts that were written to that editorial piece. I was truly amazed by the vitriolic nature of some of the responses.

I have a number of points to make:

1. The First Amendment allows for freedom of speech and religion. . . . What do you think the Pilgrims were fleeing from when they left England? Religious prescription and persecution. . . .

A majority of history’s worst atrocities have been committed in the name of religion by governments that subscribed to a particular belief system. Our government should never involve itself in the particular of a certain faith.

2. Jesus Christ was not part of any political movement or system during his ministry. . . . he understood that his mission was something more and taught his followers that they were separate and not truly part of any “kingdom” or political system on Earth. . . .

. . . In the Book of Revelation, it speaks of a religious system that partnered itself with governments and kingdoms and was ultimately destroyed. Christ also condemned those who made a public display of their faith for others to see, saying it was better to worship in private and show your devotion to God humbly.

3. Christmas is not an original part of Christianity. As I interpret from many sources I’ve read over the years, its roots are steeped in pagan worship and it was “co-opted” by the church and the Roman government hundreds of years after Christ because it was so popular and would bring more people “into the fold.” . . .

There is no historical evidence that Christ was born on Dec. 25. . . . There is no record of when he was born . . . and more importantly, he never told us we should celebrate his birthday.

Did anyone ever stop and wonder why Christmas is so popular even amont non-Christians? Quite frankly, it has metamorphosed from a pagan festival to a “Christian festival” to a capitalist one. I find it incredibly ironic that a festival not originally part of Christianity has become such a rallying cry for those seeking to defend it from “oppressors.”

I am thankful I live in a country where I am free to express my faith on a personal level without feat of government persecution. . . .

Our Constitution does not guarantee that we should have freedom “from” religion but freedom “of” religion. If you want to put a chrech on your lawn, in front of your church, or on any private land, do so. . . .

The separation of religion and state is vital to maintaining this freedom.

Do I agree with Devon Stout? Wholeheartedly.



I’m 75 years old and ever since I can remember we have seen the Baby, manger and three wise men in our books, newspapers, yards, parks and most anywhere one wanted to put them.

. . . I’m sure that if any one of any belief were to go to the City Council and say they wanted their signs of belief displayed in the park or wherever, they would allow it and help out..

Why, in this wonderful country of ours, do people think they are being put down by anyone who does differently than they do. . . . Our world isn’t wrong, it’s the bull-headed people in it.



What does having a public display of religious symbols have to do with being a good “Christian” person? I would willingly grant anyone the right to private expression of his or her religious belief. . . .

But I have another suggestions. Keep it quiet. Live your belief in the basic Christian tenet of “love your neighbor.” Stop being judge and jury of other people’s beliefs.

[The writer gives details of being towed out a ditch by a passerby]

Our savior that night was incredibly kind. He followed them to my house just to make sure they were safe. That demonstration of caring did more for my Christian Christmas spirit than any display of images in the public park could ever do.



I had just recently passed the Diamond Park and thought what a great place this is to live, when looking at the crèche on display. The next day I picked up the Tribune and saw where a person had written an article about removing the crèche.

Since the Bible has been taken out of schools, and the Ten Commandments put away, just look how our great country has gone downhill. . . . Look at how Sodom and Gomorra met their demise. Are we headed for that?

I pray that the crèche will remain where it is and that others really don’t have to look at it if they don’t want to. Could it be that some have a guilty conscious?

[…]



In 1952 a small group of people with a great love for God started an organization called the Catholic Federation. . . .

One of the first things done was to place a nativity scene in Diamond Park in Meadville. For more than 50 years it has been there every Christmas bringing joy to many without objection. Now, however, a few people are objecting, claiming that what many see as a blessing is offensive.

On Dec. 11 an employee of The Meadville Tribune wrote a very sad and selfish opinion column calling for the removal of the nativity scene from the park. It seems that Devon Stout objects to the crèche being on public property. Apparently, he has a degree in history and gives us several quotations from various people about how this country was not founded on Christianity.

They may not have been Christian, but they were God-fearing men who founded this country on Christian values. . . .

Christmas itself is even a federal holiday.

Stout says he was offended when he saw the nativity scene in a public park. . . . He must have been greatly offended after 9/11 when the whole country turned to public prayer, including the Congress and president.

What really baffles me is why one man would want to steal the joy from so many . . . because he personally is offended. He doesn’t have to look at it. . . .

. . . [P]erhaps it’s more about an agenda to remove God from everything in this country regardless of specific faith, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian. . . . For some people, it is about removing God from everything so that the liberal agenda can be achieved. In the past election, the fight for gay marriage took a big defeat, being voted down in so many states. . . .

But now persons like him and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union will not be able to realize gay marriage, abortion, assisted suicide and an anything-goes society if they do not get rid of God first.

[…]

Some people think they can even write Christ out of Christmas by spelling “Xmas.” They don’t know their history! The X in “Xmas” refers to the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. . . .

So I implore all of you to fight back and not let Mr. Stout and a few others have their way. Christianity has always been a grassroots religion and we need to stand up for what we believe in.

[…]



It’s a sad day when we feel the need to remove the nativity from Diamond Park. I certainly understand the division of church and state. But is any government official making you honor the nativity? We are so busy not offending anyone that those of us with beliefs, traditions and values are discriminated against and made to give those traditions up so that a few can make their point. What a sad commentary.



Bravo, Devon Stout. Bravo. Of course offensive displays should be removed from public property. The people who choose to worship the synthetic figurines have many church grounds where their displays could be erected and no one would object. Separate government and church. Not all taxpayers are of the same faith.



It is time for Devon Stout to go. I read a few of his articles when he started. They have proved to be disappointments, so I hadn’t read any for quite a while. I did read the one on Dec. 11 to see if he really was suggesting that we take down the nativity scene. Now that I have read it, I see he was serious. So, let him go. I don’t know why a history major writes some of the things he tackles anyway.



Leave the nativity scene alone! I’m sorry if some people don’t like it but too bad. I don’t like many things I see but I turn my head. The nativity stands for something good and pure. Leave it alone.



The nativity scene is the “reason for the season” and I am sick of the small percentage of people trying to impose their twisted politically correct values on everyone else.



If Mr. Stout and others are not happy about the nativity scene in the Diamond, find another way to get around town. There are lots of streets and alleys they can use.



It’s time to move the nativity scene! Next year when it is erected at the Diamond, place it on the opposite side of the sidewalk to the hedges do not block the view.



I think in this whole Christmas crèche discussion we are forgetting the central issue. The holiday we are celebrating is “Christmas” not “Santa Day.” Therefore, religious displays are in keeping with the holiday. Unless the holiday is renamed, manger scenes should not be deemed unacceptable or out of keeping with the season.



I certainly believe that the crèche should be displayed on the 12-by-12-foot parcel of land on Diamond Park for two weeks. I have paid taxes in Crawford County for 60 years, so by now, maybe I own that land.



Many Christians appear not to understand that most folks don’t want to have someone else’s religion shoved down their throats.



I have enjoyed seeing the nativity scene for many years. When I was a child, my mother would take us to Meadville and drive around Diamond Park a couple of times to see the manger scene. Those of you who believe the manger scene should be removed because people worship the one who is in the manger, then you better cut all the trees down also and get rid of the grass in Diamond Park, because some people worship trees and grass.



If the government is not willing to represent all major religions equally in Diamond Park, then the nativity scene should be taken down. But if they allow signs for other religious holidays, like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, then it should stay up.



I believe in God, although my vision may differ from yours. . . .

I have memories of very many styles of crèches, some of them my own. I think it is clear that I am not anti-Christmas, and I respect all religions and honor them as part of a larger faith community.

I think it is inappropriate to have a crèche in a public park. It is uncomfortable, at best, for those non-Christian religions to know that their taxes go to support something in which they do not believe. There are several Christian churches around the Diamond. Perhaps the crèche could be placed on their property on a rotating basis. Not only would this solve the current dilemma, but it would show that the churches care.

[…]



I have just re-read Devon Stout’s column in the Saturday edition of the Tribune. I had to re-read it, because I could scarcely believe what I was seeing the first time around. . . .

Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a religious man. I’m not an atheist; I’m just sort of ambivalent about religion. . . . That said, Mr. Stout’s column offended me deeply.

I get nostalgic for the good old days, too. . . . During my good old days, people did not break into a sweat whenever religion was mentioned. I won’t dispute quotes of the Founding Fathers, but I’ll bet they were all tolerant religious men. . . .

Furthermore, I’m willing to bet they all had a nativity scene set up in their hometown squares during Christmas.

I pass by the Diamond every day, and somehow I have yet to see the jack-booted government thugs demanding that I attend a Christian church. Now that I think of it, I also haven’t seen anyone fall shuddering to the ground, assuming the fetal position and beginning to babble from fear and intimidation after having cast their eyes in the direction of the plastic baby. . . .

Mr. Stout’s column seems to imply that rational people will feel that their lives and liberty will be threatened by a group of plastic figures erected by a non-government entity across the street from a (Gasp!) Christian church, on land that just happens to belong to the City of Meadville. In my good old days, people were not so ridiculous.

I have perused Mr. Stout’s columns during the last presidential campaign, and I feel fairly secure in my assumption that Mr. Stout is a liberal member of John Kerry’s party. These people constantly rant about conservative intolerance, but Mr. Stout’s nativity scene column displays an intolerance that is . . . well, intolerable.



[…]

I would like to say that I completely agree with Ron Arnold and of course with Devon Stout; and I completely disagree with Bernie Mosbacher.

With Ron Arnold, I agree that 1.) The government should not be shoving religion on others on government land, because that is “involving itself in the particulars of a certain faith;” 2.) Jesus Christ did not come to Earth to have us disobey our government’s laws, start a political revolt, and have us publicly display our faith for others to see. . . . and 3.) Christmas was never a part of the original Christians’ beliefs. It was added later.

[…]

With Devon Stout, I only have a few things left to say that I haven’t said about Ron Arnolds’ article, except that I agree that gay marriage is a cause worth defending. . . .

With Bernie Mosbacher, there are so many close-minded, offensive comments, as I saw them, that I barely know where to begin! . . . [N]ow that more and more people are being more open about everything from religion to sexuality, it’s time we opened our arms to those who are brave enough to come forward.

And I believe that in no way is Devon Stout “selfish,” as Mr. Mosbacher wrote. I see him as a person who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and try to initiate some change in our community, where obviously very few have that amount of courage!

[…]

I personally believe that public displays should not be put up to force religion on others! Yet I also personally believe that if you want to see and appreciate the nativity scene, go look at the houses in your neighborhood or put your own up.

[…]

Mr. Mosbacher makes points about people saying and putting up signs reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” saying that this is an example of people trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. That is not the point at all! The point is to wish everyone, no matter their religion, a wonderful holiday season, as at this time of year many are also celebrating Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

In conclusion, I wish everyone a positively perfect holiday season. . . .



After reading Devon Stout’s column advocating the removal of the nativity scene in Diamond Park, I placed my paper down and braced for the inevitable firestorm.

In the following days the paper was full of a variety of retorts, but for all the responses I did not find one addressing the biggest fallacy, the frequent misinterpretation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

[…]

Unlike many nations at the time, the United States was formed on the governance of law and not the whim of a monarch, whether malevolent or benign. That is why our Founding Fathers felt the need to produce the Bill of Rights, a group of amendments designed to protect an individual’s rights from the intervention of government.

The First Amendment addresses the protection of religious freedom. . . . It is regrettable that in the current era of our country that this has been misinterpreted to mean all things of religious relevance must be removed from public grounds under the belief that this is an expression of the separation of church and state.

[…]

After this politically charged year, we have seen diverse and sometimes controversial displays of our First Amendment rights within the confines of our community park, but to conclude that every one of these occurrences on public ground is somehow endorsed by our government is preposterous.

Intolerance of religion is just as damaging to our country as religious intolerance. If we are to exercise our freedoms to speak and believe as we would, then we must grant that to others, even if we don’t care for what they say or display.



It appears that Devon Stout is reaching for excuses to fire up the Christians in this area. Why? Perhaps to cover the calling in his own heart.

Revelations 3:20: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with me.

Maybe, Mr. Stout, you should answer the knock on your heart. I see you as the Paul of our times. He persecuted Christians for reasons he believed to be true also, until God spoke to him on the road to Damascus.

Right now you have no peace in your heart, only hostility. God can give you that peace.



Mr Tracey McCracken stated in a letter that he would be “. . . willing to bet [the Founding Fathers] all had a nativity scene set up in their hometown squares during Christmas.”

I’ll take that bet! And althought the days of the Founding Fathers was (sic) long before my time, I have every confidence that I’ll win!

The Christmas celebration as we know it today was centuries in the making and slow to gain acceptance, including in Protestant early America. . . . Mr. McCracken’s assumption that our Christmas traditions have always been with us is erroneous and foolish. . . .

It is a virtual certainty that none of the Founding Fathers had a nativity scene set up in their hometown squares during Christmas!

Just for the record, I have no objections to the crèche in Diamond Park. . . . In the current discussion, I find Mr. Devon Stout’s arguments interesting and worthy, but not compelling, and Mr. McCracken’s counter-arguments almost non-existent.

Now that the ACLU has signed off on the idea that a nativity scene in a public park is OK, can’t we just move on to something else? After I collect my bet!



To columnists Devon Stout, Ron Arnold, Rebecca Hoffman and Lauren French, Meadville’s humble nativity display seems to have caused you the greatest anxiety attack since Chicken Little thought the sky was falling. . . .

[…]

The display has been excoriated for everything from “government establishment of religion” (which it does not) to forcing religion down people’s throats (which it does not) to denying people’s rights (which again it does not). Ms. French mentions “tolerance for all faiths.” One can only wonder if her concept of tolerance would extend to the display in question. Perhaps her definition of tolerance is different than mine.

I firmly believe that there are certain people with their own agendas who will attack anything in the public arena that even “smacks” of religion, specifically Christianity! . . . In the mid-70s while in the Navy stations in Norfolk, Va., I witnessed a United States flag being burned in a public park supported by public tax money. I was greatly offended! However, I was to learn later, in 1980, that a Supreme Court ruling said their right to do this was protected under the First Amendment. For a second time I was greatly offended. Oh well.

It’s very simple, you can burn the flag in a public park supported by your taxes but don’t you dare put up a nativity display. You just might “horror of horrors” offend somebody. . . .

Thomas Jefferson began and ended the Declaration of Independence with references to God. Of course he was “unenlightened” by today’s post-modern political correctness. He only wrote the greatest document in political history. I wonder what Mr. Stout and the rest of these offended people think about that.