NEWAYGO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Christmas decoration atop Newaygo Elementary will stay, the school board decided Monday, but district officials may consider altering it after a challenge from a group of activists.
For years — possibly more than 70, some say — decorations depicting the three wise men from the Bible have been erected on the roof the elementary school during the holiday season. This year, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists complained, saying the decorations represent a violation of the separation of church and state.
The Newagyo Public Schools Board of Education held a special meeting on the matter Monday evening and heard public comment on the topic. Dozens of people attended the meeting, and it seemed that everyone supported leaving the display as it is, citing tradition.
“Please, leave our wise men alone,” parent Michael Burns implored the board.
“Look away if it offends you,” he added later, speaking to 24 Hour News 8.
“It’s not overly religious,” Newagyo resident Wayne Kauffman said. “It’s appropriate and it’s one that we’ve enjoyed as a community for many years.”
Board members then went into closed session to discuss what to do. When they came back, they said they were on supporters’ side.
“This board has no desire to remove the display,” Board President Vince Grodus said before the crowd began to applaud.
The board handed the matter over to the superintendent to ensure that the decorations aligned with the district’s values encouraging to make changes to the decorations as she sees fit.
“This community has said loud and clear even before tonight’s meeting that they want the display to stay,” Superintendent Peggy Mathis said. “So we will look at ways to maybe make that happen, maybe enhance it, so it can stay.”
She said she had not decided what, if any, changes could be made, but that it was unlikely anything would happen before Christmas.
The activist group says it got involved because of a complaint from someone in the school district. The district says it has not received any such complaint.
The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists was also involved in several other challenges regarding religion and public entities. Among those were efforts to end Bible studies at schools in Hudsonville, the removal of a Bible verse on display in Jenison’s Hager Park, the challenge that led the cross on Dewey Hill in Grand Haven to be turned into an anchor and, earlier this year, an effort to get rid of the Father Marquette cross in the Ludington area.
—24 Hour News 8’s Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.