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Legal threat over Nativity scene placement prompts unlikely response

WADENA, Minn. (AP) — The response to the threat of a lawsuit that forced a central Minnesota city to keep its Nativity scene off city property has similar displays popping up all around town.

For four decades, the community’s Nativity scene was set up in a downtown park during the holidays. But the threat of legal action over the separation of church and state from the Freedom From Religion Foundation led the City Council to give the replicas of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to a group of local ministers this year.

Mayor George Deiss handled a flood of angry calls over the matter. Soon, Nativity scenes began showing up in shop windows, on front yards and other places around the community. Deiss estimated there are now at least a thousand Nativity displays around Wadena, Minn., the Star Tribune reported.

“The whole community has come out to support this,” said Gillette Kempf, owner of An Open Book store, who also sits on the City Council. “It’s an expression of who we are as a community and what we believe. We believe in the Nativity.”

Patrick Elliott, the attorney for the Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit group said its concern is not about expressions of faith.

“I think their response has been perfectly fine,” Elliott said. The concern was with a local government owning religious icons and displaying them on public property, he said.

The city’s old Nativity display was sold to the Wadena Ministerial Association for $25 and now sits on the lawn of the old hospital on city’s main thoroughfare.

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