– A Nativity scene that has long been part of the city of Wadena’s Christmas decorations will no longer be displayed, despite a strong show of support from citizens who oppose its removal.

It was the threat of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., that led the City Council on Tuesday night to vote to donate the replicas of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to a private group.

Mayor George Deiss said the Nativity scene has been displayed at Burlington Northern Park for as long as anyone in the city can remember. It formerly made its home in the band shell, but caught the attention of a resident last year after it was moved to the heart of the park.

“They were offended that we had put it out on city property,” Deiss said.

Deiss told KARE-TV that the Nativity scene has been around so long that it’s more of a tradition than a religious display.

“When something is put up that many years it becomes a tradition to the city,” he said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Patrick Elliot said even though it may be a tradition, it shouldn’t rub up against the constitutional provision of separation of church and state.

“There are a number of traditions that should be stopped and those are ones that violate the Constitution,” Elliot said. “So no matter how long they’ve been perpetuating this illegal display, now is the time to stop it.”

Elliot said the foundation gets dozens of similar complaints across the nation each year.

Associated Press