Enid officials demanded to cease all involvement in the Christmas display | Don’t miss it



ENID, Okla. – Enid town commissioners took no action on downtown improvements for a Christmas program following a two-hour executive session closed to the public on Tuesday.

Officials also made no comment after the session on the city’s involvement in “The One,” an event scheduled for this Christmas season that a nonprofit says is likely a constitutional violation.

Christopher Line, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter to Commissioners and Mayor George Pankonin on Thursday asking the city to cease all infrastructure work and promotion related to the event.

Line said the city was using taxpayer funds for the event, including repairing sidewalks, installing markers and digging a sinkhole for a 140-foot-tall tree – called “the tree.” of Christ ”- and this is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. establishment clause, which states that public entities such as governments cannot support one religion over another.

The letter asked for written assurances that the city would end the project.

“The One” is organized, financially supported and promoted by a private group of area residents, families and sponsors, and is expected to run for six weeks from November 26.

Line said the Foundation had received “several” reports from residents of the Enid area since the announcement in late July of “The One”.

Line told News & Eagle last week that the situation downtown was not as “crisp” as some of the violations the FFRF is dealing with across the country.

He said the FFRF receives between 3,000 and 5,000 complaints per year. The Foundation is often able to resolve more serious offense reports by sending a letter to the public entity, such as a school board or government.

“We see litigation as a last resort,” Line said, adding that the foundation hopes to get records from the city.

“We’re doing our best to sort that out here,” he said. “But it also seems pretty clear that something inappropriate is going on here and possibly illegal with the way the city is spending huge amounts of taxpayer money on it, let alone the approval. of this (event). “

Media representatives for “The One” planning team did not respond to a request for comment.

As seen on Tuesday, the sidewalks and corner knots have been repaired, and city contract workers are currently digging an approximately 15-foot receiving shaft for the tree, which will be erected. in the center of Park Avenue between Grand and Independence.

Beginning on the night of “Enid Lights the Plains,” after Thanksgiving, “The One” will feature many Christmas events, including church services, free concerts and dance recitals hosted by churches, groups and individuals.

Events will take place for 42 days around the 140-foot “Christ Tree”.

With the commissioner’s approval, the city has funded approximately $ 115,000 in infrastructure improvements, most of which are complete. The city will also cover the electric bill for the tree lights after installing power lines in a nearby utility easement.

City manager Jerald Gilbert said last week that he and city attorney Carol Lahman also received the letter, and Gilbert said the city attorney was planning a response.

Local lawyers with First Amendment expertise also questioned the city’s involvement.

Enid’s attorney, Stephen Jones, said a potential problem could be for the city to use taxpayer money to create what he called a “public platform” primarily for an obvious Christian message. to relay around the tree of Christ.

Jones said he believed the Christmas tree itself would not be legally problematic for the city, but “it’s the” Christmas tree plus “that brings this to the level where the city might face a challenge, legally “.

Citing the establishment clause, former Oklahoma law professor and attorney Rick Tepker also said Enid’s municipal government could create problems for itself by emphasizing and emphasizing a religious goal. for the tree.

“If they can’t come up with a realistic and overriding secular goal, they’re going to have problems,” said Tepker, who retired this year from teaching constitutional law at the University of Law school. ‘Oklahoma. “There are a ton of words in several Supreme Court decisions that suggest this type of religious motivation is evidence of an unconstitutional project.”


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