PJI Helps Convince City to Bring Back Nativity Scene

December 26, 2018
Media Contact: Brad Dacus, 916-616-4126 (Spanish: 206-257-3239)

Gig Harbor, WA—This Christmas season Gig Harbor reincorporated a nativity scene display in Skansie Brothers Park after Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) provided legal clarity and offered pro bono support in response to the threats the City received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

For roughly a decade, the traditional Christmas display, provided by John Skansi and Councilman Jim Franich who together head up the local “Sons of Thunder” group, included a City-approved nativity scene next to a Christmas tree and other secular symbols of the Christmas season in the public park. However, in November 2016 the City received a letter from the FFRF threatening to sue Gig Harbor for the “unconstitutional” nativity scene. The FFRF, a Wisconsin-based atheist organization known for castigating people of faith and filing suits that are routinely thrown out of court, pressured the City Council to censor all religious content from the display.

Despite significant public outcry, which included 1,150 people signing a petition to bring back the nativity scene, the City Council voted against the nativity scene again in October 2017. At the request of Gig Harbor resident Elizabeth Kreiselmaier, Ph.D. who played a key role in organizing the community’s efforts to persuade the City to bring the nativity back, PJI’s new office in Seattle, Washington, sent a letter to the mayor of Gig Harbor that laid out the constitutional rights the City has to bring back the nativity display. This letter, along with the community efforts led by Skansi and Kreiselmaier and the key internal efforts spearheaded by Councilman Franich, motivated the City Council to stand up to the FFRF’s threats and reinstate their traditional Christmas display with the nativity scene just in time for the 2018 Tree Lighting Celebration.

“The FFRF’s hostility toward religious displays on government property cannot go unchecked,” stated Jorge Ramos, PJI’s Staff Attorney in Seattle who met personally with the mayor and council members prior to their 5-1 vote in favor of reincorporating the nativity scene. “The City has the right to recognize religious symbols of the holiday along with other secular items in a public display.”

Brad Dacus, President of PJI, commented, “Our office in Washington State boldly outlined the laws in place that protect and recognize the historical, cultural, and religious value of the nativity scene. We applaud the City for reinforcing history and tradition while rejecting fear.”