The Knights of Columbus on Tuesday sued Rehoboth Beach over the Delaware town’s ban against public displays of a Nativity scene.
“The Knights of Columbus simply wants to continue a beloved tradition of this town,” said Roger Byron, attorney for First Liberty Institute, the religious freedom law firm representing the Catholic fraternal group in the lawsuit. “It is perfectly lawful to have a crèche on public property, and blatantly unlawful to ban it.”
City officials in 2018 stopped allowing a Nativity scene from joining a secular Christmas display along the boardwalk, complete with a tree, holiday lights and a Santa’s house.
Tuesday’s lawsuit alleges that the ban violates constitutional protections for religious expression.
“By relegating the crèche to an isolated tract of privately controlled land — while allowing a private group to display a secular holiday display on City property — the City has prohibited the Knights of Columbus from participating in the community’s decades-long holiday tradition on equal terms,” says the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware. “The City has done so solely because the crèche is religious.”
The lawsuit says a Nativity scene has been displayed at Rehoboth Beach’s bandstand since the 1930s. Last fall, the Chamber of Commerce in Rehoboth offered its private property as a site for the Nativity, but the lawsuit notes that the location is far removed from the bandstand.