On Tuesday, August 20th the Bethel Board of Selectmen voted to allow all displays that fit into one third of PT Barnum Square during the holidays, and to hold a lottery if more applications from qualified individuals or groups are made than will safely fit. To qualify, an application must be made by a Bethel resident or organization, and the display must pass a review by the Public Works Department regarding safety. The motion was made by First Selectman Knickerbocker, who was joined by Selectman Szatkowski with Selectman Straiton voting against the measure. A previous motion made during the meeting by Selectman Straiton to eliminate all displays, failed in a 2 to 1 vote.
Hemant Mehta, a prominent atheist blogger, posted a call the following day for non-Christians in Bethel to overwhelm the lottery with non-Christian applications to ensure that the Nativity does not get displayed.
Selectman Szatkowski had called for the Board of Selectmen, rather than a lottery, to select what to display in the event that more requests than would fit were filed. He later voted for the lottery solution after Selectman Straiton's motion to ban all displays and First Selectman Knickerbocker's motion to use a lottery to decide.
The atheist posting stated "It's finally treating everybody equally, and there may very well be a scenario where a Satanic display gets chosen while the Nativity scene gets left out.
Beautiful. Now the fun begins. I would encourage every atheist, Satanic, Jewish, Muslim, and other non-Christian groups in the community to have local members fill out the application and see what happens." while a July post by a national Satanic Temple leader stated "Creating a Satanic display for Bethel will be a particularly enticing project".
Several Bethel residents are exploring organizing a petition for a Special Town Meeting to change the process from a lottery to another selection process that can't be overwhelmed by requests whose primary aim is to prevent the display of the Nativity.
We asked First Selectman Knickerbocker, Republican First Selectman candidate Pat Rist and unaffiliated First Selectman candidate Bill Ochs to comment.
Mr. Knickerbocker said he had nothing to add to the perspectives discussed at the meeting. Ms. Rist said "After viewing the video I'm concerned that the actions taken have the potential to turn this decision into a side show. I'm focused on honoring what the square has meant to Bethel and its residents, for close to half a century, and that is tradition, history, and values. This decision could conceivably undue all of this. Only time will tell based on the number and types of applications submitted beginning this October 1st."
Mr. Ochs, who attended the meeting, said "The lottery option doesn't truly represent what the residents of Bethel want. The lottery system puts into jeopardy a 40+ year tradition. The Board of Selectmen is caving in to a small group instead of representing the whole Town."
Atheists have called for non-Christians to overwhelm the new holiday display lottery system put in place by the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday, and to replace the Nativity with satanic displays like this one and other non-Christian displays.