Letter to the editor:
A nativity was placed on the North West corner in Oskaloosa’s city square sometime last week. As soon as I noticed it, I sent a letter to the City Manager, the Mayor, and my City Council member, Tom Jimenez. I stated that the religious display, as it was, did not reflect the religious diversity found in Oskaloosa and Mahaska County, and was a clear violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation. Religious symbols, like the nativity scene that was located in the heart of Oskaloosa, cannot be constitutionally displayed by themselves on public property. I then asked the City to take responsibility for the discriminatory display and either remove the nativity, or create an exhibit that is representative of everyone who lives in Oskaloosa and Mahaska County.
The City of Oskaloosa removed the display from government property, even though an “open forum,” where people of all faiths and no faith could place their own religious and non-religious items, symbols or exhibits, is a legal option.
After this, I got a voice mail from City Council member Aaron Ver Steeg in which he said that people like me can just look the other way. This is what Pagans, Buddhists, Agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists and Jews do when there is a nativity on private property. However, this nativity was in a city owned park and people like me do not have to look away; we do not have to tolerate infringements on our religious liberty.
I would like to thank the City of Oskaloosa for taking its duty to protect religious liberty for all residents, for all constituents, seriously. I would also like to take this time to remind Mr. Ver Steeg that Pagans, Buddhists, Agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists and Jews have every right to live in Oskaloosa. We do have the freedom to move away from here, like you said, but you need to realize that we also have the freedom to live here.
Mr. Ver Steeg: The use of government property to promote Christianity as superior to other faiths, religions and secularism is abhorrent and illegal. The fact that you knowingly discriminate against non-Christians is equally repugnant but not surprising. The nativity, as it was displayed on government property and your malfeasant voice mail, are evidence of the systematic intolerance of religious diversity in Oskaloosa. If you want a nativity displayed on public property you need to allow all residents to add to that display in an open forum, or the City itself needs to create an exhibit that is representative and respectful of all, not just Christians.
Aiyanna Rahiyma Looney
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