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Ravenna nativity display will not return after series of complaints

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RAVENNA, Ohio-- It's not yet Thanksgiving, but a Portage County mayor is already discussing Christmas and his decision to end a controversial nativity scene displayed last year.

Ravenna Mayor Frank Seman said in 2017 he agreed to allow a local woman, who asked not to be identified, display her nativity scene near the Portage County Courthouse. The nativity was placed on land owned by the city.

While many residents enjoyed the nativity display, others saw it as a conflict between the separation of church and state. Seman said calls began to flood his office, some as far as Wisconsin, from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A post on its website shows the complaint was handled by the foundation's legal director.

"These aren't people screaming and hollering on the phone, they were making a thoughtful argument," Seman said.

The mayor, a self-described churchgoer, said in today's divided political climate, it's important to maintain civility and listen to both sides of every issue. In this particular case, he said he realized the display was not appropriate on government property.

However, not all who live nearby agree with his decision. One woman even pointed out a Halloween event still being promoted on the "Welcome to Ravenna" sign near the courthouse.

"This is the United States of America and it's a free country," said Yolanda Smith. "If we can celebrate holidays such as Halloween and it's clear the sign is celebrating Halloween, which is a Pagan, holiday why can't we celebrate Christmas?"

Others said they hope to see the nativity in an equally prominent area in the city so they can educate their children about it's meaning.

"I wish it would come back this year," Camille Smith said. "My kids love to come out and see the lights and I get to tell the story of the birth of Christ so it's really a nice time of year."

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