DOVER, Ohio — Season’s greetings in Dover will look different this year after the mayor says the city was threatened with a lawsuit if they refused to move a statue of the Ten Commandments and a nativity display off city property.
“We have freedom of religion and they’re saying that we’re endorsing one religion,” said Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen.
In a January letter, a Wisconsin based group — the Freedom from Religion Foundation– wrote the Dover mayor, stating an area resident reported about the displays including a large “Latin”cross.
“Yeah, they have a point, but it’s been that way for eons so just leave us alone,” said the mayor.
The foundation stated the displays were a conflict, citing the separation between church and state. The mayor says the displays nearby city hall were moved to a nearby church property as a result this holiday season.
“Twenty-seven years been mayor, nothing like this has ever happened,” said the mayor. “Never imagined it would happen.”
A spokesperson for the Freedom from Religion Foundation said they are not unfairly targeting the city; instead, they are responding to a valid complaint. According to their count of complaints, Ohio ranks in the top ten worst offenders nationwide nearly every year. The group spokesperson said they recorded 750 Ohio complaints since 2015.
“It’s important to uphold the First Amendment and that’s an effort every American, regardless of religion or party affiliation, should join,” said constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel, for the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
He continued, “We are defending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; it doesn’t get any better than that.”
“The response would be that it can be very expensive, from the point of view it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Doug O’Mara, the law director for the city.
While both the nativity scene and Ten Commandments remain displayed not far from where they were originally placed, some say they want to celebrate the holidays the way they have always enjoyed.
“The kids would walk up and visit the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the angel,” said Sue Grafe.