City Rejects Proposal to Ban Religious Displays During Holiday Season

The 10-foot, 300-pound satanic pentagram in Sanborn Square last year won the right to remain. Following a Boca Raton City Council meeting on Aug. 22, the city found the banning of religious displays unconstitutional and the ordinance was killed.

Initially the Boca Raton City Council proposed to discontinue a policy that allowed religious displays at Sanborn Square Park each December following the backlash and criticism the pentagram display received last year.

Preston Smith, the Boca Raton Middle School teacher who put up the display, was firmly against the proposal.

“It’s ironic that the quickest way to shut down the public forum is to have a different opinion,” he said. “It is astonishing hypocrisy on the city’s part.”

The first amendment protects Smith’s freedom of speech to express what he believes, but the large pentagram which displayed the words, “May the Children Hail Satan” stirred controversy around the country.

At the council meeting, City Attorney Diana Grub Fresier reiterated the display had not broken any laws.

“Once we allow the private installation as we had historically, then we must allow all private installations,” she said. “We cannot under the constitution and have not made distinctions based on content, such as making one permitted and another is not. We have never discouraged anyone from using Sanborn Square as a freedom of expression zone.”

Historically this is true when looking at the Sanborn Square holiday tradition. In 1990, the city had installed a Christmas tree in Sanborn Square, but one of the Jewish groups wanted to put up a menorah. Following a lawsuit, a settlement was reached. The city decided to allowed private installations, which has remained a custom to this day.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie believes the pentagram is a rare incident, but one that should be addressed.

“After all the attention last year’s display received,” she said. “In my opinion, it was extremely offensive and it offended many of our residents. We could have several of those unless we close this we cannot control the content of those displays.”

Among those who share Haynie’s displeasure were Boca Raton residents Laurie Colbert and Therese Brady, who are both in favor of the proposal.

“I’ve been here for 30 years and all of the sudden we have this satanic display from last year that seems to be squashing our ability to show the true meaning of Christmas,” said Colbert describing her personal view of the display. “The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ, whatever religion you are.”

The display last year was so offensive to some that a few took matters into their own hands to destroy it. The pentagram display was vandalized repeatedly and even ran over by a truck. Both incidences occurring during the several weeks it stood, as Smith continued to rebuild it.

“Perform your duty of encouraging public safety, even if many city officials may disagree,” Joe Masserie of Highland Beach told the council. “Issue the permits and secure the permits. This is a policing issue. It’s the responsibility of the public authority.”

As for the individuals who vandalized the pentagram on different occasions, they were never caught.

“The backlash of the display really should have made the city take more precautions like installing flood lights or cameras,” said Smith.

“There should be cameras in the park to see what goes on,” said Charles Fix, who also had a similar solution to Smith’s idea. “Forget changing the ordinance. Just install cameras.”

The decision to install such a controversial display was Smith’s initiative to “force change” and he mentioned that he will continue to do so this December.

“It’s a battle that will continue for many, many years,” he said.

The park, which recognizes a “freedom of speech” zone, will still allow holiday installations provided they not be permanent in nature and be removed after that event.

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