CENTERVILLE — A heated council meeting that saw one constituent escorted out resulted in no change to the city’s decision to remove a Nativity scene from city-owned property.
Kathy Perry, a Centerville resident, was escorted from the meeting by police after repeatedly interrupting discussion with various statements.
As she left the chambers, she proclaimed the city’s decision was “communism at its finest. I will not be voting for these people ...”
Her comments to the council became heated quickly as she called Mayor Mike O’Connor a liar and members of the city council cowards. Initially cutting her off for violating public speaking rules set by the body, O’Connor allowed her to continue to make a point about a Supreme Court decision that she felt allowed the Nativity scene to be on government property.
“I have a right to religious freedom according to the First Amendment of the Constitution,” she said. “I have no problem with Atheism, Wiccan, Satanism, they can put their stuff up there, I think that’s great. I’m for everybody to have a say. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to look at it.”
Tony Angran, Pastor at the Solid Rock Church of God in Centerville, took off his coat prior to speaking to show a red T-shirt with the words “PUT IT BACK” printed in bold on the front and back.
He thanked local business owner Ryan Stober, who owns the property at Main and Maple streets in Centerville, for allowing the display at its present location. However, Angran said the display should still be moved back as there’s no legal reason for it to have been removed, and that those who funded it expected it to be placed on public property.
Another pastor, Brad Dittmer from Centerville Assembly of God Church, said he struggled to believe there are legal reasons barring the Nativity scene’s placement on the square.
“You also have a very strong group of people who are very passionate about this,” Dittmer said. “But also, they’re not ignorant, they’ve done some research as well. I would agree that it’s a beautiful place where it’s at now, but from a legal standpoint I believe that we should be able to have it on the square.”
Beau Reeves, a Centerville resident who identified as a “proud atheist” said he supported the council’s decision to move the scene of the government-owned property. He said as a taxpayer he shouldn’t have to walk by the scene en route to the Appanoose County Courthouse.
“The fact that the church has spent 10 grand on this scene,” he said, “but still can’t fix the drug addiction in this town, or the mental health issues in this town, or kids that aren’t getting presents this year in this town, but we have the money to spend 10 grand on a Nativity scene is a little wrong.”
As he finished, several booed his comments.
After the meeting, city administrator Jason Fraser said several individuals communicated with him in advance of the meeting to support keeping the scene at its current location.
“I think its safe to say for the next nine days, the Nativity scene is going to stay where it is on the Stober property,” O’Connor told speakers during Monday’s meeting. He pointed out the item was a discussion item on the agenda, and therefore the council could not take a vote one way or the other. About six citizens were allowed to seat, but dozens filled the council chambers Monday.
After the meeting had concluded while Fraser was talking to press Angran approached to say the issue is not over.
“We’re not done yet, you understand that? I just want you to know,” Angran told Fraser. “We’re not done, because we want it back up there. As fast as you took it off, we want it back up there.”
Angran provided Fraser with information from the Liberty Counsel, who Angran said would help Centerville with any legal fights that arise from the display being on government property.
Councilmember Jay Dillard, who was called the “messenger” for the complaints by Fraser, said he felt the council was required to consider the rights of all citizens of the community.
“I promise you, in this instance, we are being fair across the board,” Dillard said to wide unrest in the crowd.
The Nativity scene was placed on city-owned property steps from the east entrance to the Appanoose County Courthouse in mid-November. Before Thanksgiving, complaints surfaced and the city communicated that the display needed to be moved.
Last Monday, the city helped gather some volunteers and moved the display about two blocks to the south onto privately owned property along Highway 2.
The move riled the community, with hundreds comment on a Facebook post made by a local church and more than a thousand signed an online petition for the scene to be moved back.