Portales courthouse hosting nativity scenes

The presence of three nativity scenes on the lawn of the Portales courthouse has caused a few people to call in and ask questions. (Freedom Newspapers: Leslie Spence)

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

National department stores, including Wal-Mart and Target, have recently been criticized by some Christians for refusing to use the word “Christmas” in advertising and offering greetings of “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas.”

Even the White House came under fire from evangelical Christians this year for sending secular greeting cards that read “Best wishes for a holiday season.”

But Christmas is alive and well in Portales and other eastern New Mexico communities. Not one but three nativity scenes decorate the Roosevelt County Courthouse lawns, symbols that have been largely without controversy in the region.

“I think that Christ is coming back to Christmas and maybe that is the reason people are accepting the nativities (at the courthouse),” said Roosevelt County Commissioner David Sanders. “At our house, we don’t have a tree called a ‘seasonal tree,’ it’s called a Christmas tree.”

Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Hardin said the county has received a few telephone calls from people asking why there are nativity scenes at the courthouse. Those calls did not result in any action, she said.

Two of the Portales nativities are in the front lawn — a Precious Moments nativity and a lifelike nativity with large figures. The back lawn facing West First Street features a Santa’s workshop on one end and a nativity scene with cutouts on the other end.

According to the American Liberty Counsel, some people have the mistaken belief that government-sponsored nativity scenes are unconstitutional. The Liberty Counsel states on its Web site that nativity scenes on public property are permissible if the holiday display includes both secular and religious symbols, with secular symbols including things such as Christmas trees, snowmen or Santa’s reindeer.

One local resident, Robin Inge, said the nativities need to be at the courthouse because that is what Christmas is about.

“It goes both ways,” Inge said. “We give people who don’t believe in Christmas an opportunity to voice their opinions, but then it would be taking away our chance to voice ours if there were no nativities (in public places).”

She added, “If you take them down because of a small group who doesn’t want them, then what do you do about the bigger group of people who do?”

Another local resident, Jose O. Velasquez, said, “I think the nativities at the courthouse are beautiful, after all, that’s what Christmas represents. We pay taxes for that property too, so I don’t see a problem with it.”

Sanders said a few years ago county commissioners got some money together to have one of the nativity scenes built and said, “If the nation is made up of 85 percent Christians, then I bet 85 percent of the people are excited to have Christmas in their lives.”