- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - On a frigid night lit by the lights of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse last week, Don and Mary Beth Porter drove around downtown looking for him.

Like clockwork, Jack Ruckel was there. He parked his red Dodge Ram slightly over the curb of the courthouse to give drivers a better view of the well-lit Nativity. He started on Dec. 17 and will be out every evening through Christmas.

Since 1999, Ruckel has loaded a large Nativity in the back of his pickup truck and put it out on display near the courthouse square. At first, it was to make a statement against the county commissioners’ decision to ban all privately sponsored displays at the courthouse, including the Christian Nativity, once a holiday staple.

“It’s not a statement anymore. Now, it’s just more tradition. People won’t let you quit,” Ruckel, 77, of Lafayette, told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1wZF0L6 ).

Although Ruckel has no intention of pressing county commissioners to reconsider lifting the ban, he’d support the initiative if someone else did. Ruckel is not alone. . Nearly 44 percent of American adults say Christian symbols such as Nativity scenes should be allowed on government property even if they are not accompanied by other religious symbols, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.

But the issue is quite nuanced - another 28 percent of U.S. adults would permit such symbols only if they were accompanied by displays from other religions. At the same time, 20 percent said no such displays should be allowed on government property.

Although a majority of Americans support such displays, John Knochel, county commissioner for District 1 who’s retiring at the end of the year, , said there’s no reason to lift the local ban.

“We’ve been getting along very well with the policy,” he said.

It’s also unlikely to get support from local Christian ministers. In 2000, a year after the ban was instituted, supporters tried to get county commissioners to reconsider but 32 Greater Lafayette pastors openly distanced themselves from the controversy.

Jeff Mikels, pastor of Lafayette Community Church, who also serves on the leadership board of Tippecanoe Evangelical Association of Ministers and Ministries, supports the ban.

“When it comes to Nativity scenes or crosses, I do think it’s appropriate for those to not be present on publicly owned property but it is because I believe I benefit from a country that has freedom of religious expression,” he said.

Haroon Mohammad, a youth mentor at Islamic Society of Greater Lafayette, agreed.

He said the least offensive route is for government to avoid religious displays altogether.

“It would seem to suggest that there is an endorsement of a particular faith,” he said. “It can give off the wrong impression when trying to respect the diversity of other religions in the community.”

He said churches or other religious institutions can display their symbols on their property.

“That’s a better mechanism to reach out to the community and educate them about what’s going on. . In the end it’s about connecting that display to the message,” Mohammad added.

Mikels and Mohammad had no complaints about Ruckel’s mobile manger, deeming it a form of individual religious expression.

“I personally don’t have an issue with it, and I would venture to say that most Muslims would not be offended by it,” Mohammad said. “He’s not harming anybody. He’s not breaking any laws.”

In the cold of night last week, Ruckel paced around his truck. At other times, he lined up candy canes. They needed to be ready for him to hand out to passers-by or drivers who stopped.

He hoped a homeless man would pass by so he could give him a wrapped gift of insulated underwear.

Drivers zoomed by in their cars. Some honked in support. The Porters, of West Lafayette, stopped to express their gratitude.

“Thank you, so much,” said Mary Beth, 71, after rolling down the window of her silver Jeep Liberty. “God bless you. Our Lord is going to reward you.”

Music to Ruckel’s ears.

“Oh, yeah, he is,” he said. “He’s blessed me tremendously.”

___

Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide