The World’s Largest Fresh-Cut Christmas Tree is coming to Enid, Oklahoma later this year as part of a project called “The One.” That name alone should signal how Jesus-centric this display will be. The website makes clear “The tree is a marker for the true One, the immeasurable One, God.”
A local resident, Kyle Williams, plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to erect the display, which will include all kinds of homages to Jesus over the course of six weeks, including worship concerts and church services.
And if this was in Williams’ backyard or at a church, it wouldn’t matter.
But it’s not. In fact, the city of Enid plans to spend well over $100,000 to support this monument to Christianity.
This is from the Enid News & Eagle:
City commissioners heard an initial presentation on the downtown tree in late April, during which City Manager Jerald Gilbert said infrastructure costs such as the sidewalks, electric service and leveling the south side of Park would probably come to “a six-figure amount.”
He later said in an email Aug. 2 he anticipates costs would come to around $150,000 or less on infrastructure work for this project to also support other downtown events.
He said that the sidewalk and concrete work, including adding bollards, would cost $97,000; electrical service is about $15,000. He said he didn’t know the costs of the receiver well, where the tree will be placed.
An editorial in the paper published last month said the display “could be problematic” because of the church/state separation concerns.
There’s no need to hedge with “could be,” though. It is problematic. This isn’t a secular display. This isn’t even a secular display with aspects of different religious traditions. This is just an Oklahoma city pledging to use taxpayer dollars to advertise Christianity.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has just sent them a warning to change course before it’s too late. This is how attorney Christopher Line ends the letter:
… When a city promotes and expends $150,000 of taxpayer funds in order to support a religious structure and multiple worship events, reasonable citizens will interpret this as government endorsement of religion.
The City of Enid must cease expending taxpayer funds to support religion, and must cease promoting religious events. We request written assurances that the City will cease this project, and will not spend taxpayer funds on religion in the future so that we may notify our local complainant that this matter has been resolved.
It’s not even complicated. The organizers have made it abundantly clear that promoting Jesus is their goal, not bringing tourists to the city or creating a holiday display that’s in any way secular. That’s when the city should have put a stop to it — or urged Williams to ask a local church to help him out.
This is a lawsuit waiting to happen — and the case wouldn’t even be ambiguous.
(Image via The One)