Ocean City Not Concerned About ‘Faith-Based Decorations’ After Nativity Scene Removed In Rehoboth

Ocean City Not Concerned About ‘Faith-Based Decorations’ After Nativity Scene Removed In Rehoboth
An illuminated nativity scene is pictured at Ocean City’s park space on 3rd Street. Photos by Chris Parpya

OCEAN CITY — After a major dust-up in Rehoboth Beach this week over the positioning of a nativity scene on town-owned property, a closer look at the hundreds of holiday displays in Ocean City revealed the number of faith-based displays included is fairly underwhelming.

Last week, St. Edmond’s Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach placed a nativity scene on town-owned property near the bandstand at the Boardwalk on behalf of a local Kiwanis charity. City officials then ordered the faith-based symbol of the Christmas season to be removed from town property.

City officials have said it is more appropriate for the nativity scene to be placed on church property, or at least on private property. In the interim, a dozen or so businesses have offered to place the nativity scene on their own property.

The backlash from the decision to remove the nativity scene from town property was palpable and grew all last weekend and spilled over into this week. In an era of hypersensitivity and political correctness run amok, the residents and visitors of Rehoboth Beach along with its business community and local government were clearly divided over the issue that continued to simmer late this week.

The issue in Rehoboth prompted a closer look at Ocean City’s countless holiday lights and displays and revealed there is no stated policy on faith-based displays on city property or at city-sponsored events including the popular Winterfest of Lights. Instead, it appears common sense and a spirit of acceptance and tolerance prevails in Ocean City compared to its beach resort neighbor in Delaware. City Manager Doug Miller did some cursory research into the town’s policies regarding faith-based holiday decorations and found nothing formal on the books.

“I’m not sure if we have a formal policy or if our decoration selection was simply an evolutionary process,” he said. “I’m certain that we do have some faith-based decorations in the eight-minute loop. Also, I believe that our ability to have some Christian decorations in displays like ours have been upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters did her own cursory research into the holiday displays in the resort at Winterfest and Lights and throughout the town and found there was a very small percentage of faith-based displays included. Waters said of the 400-plus holiday displays in Ocean City on town property, just four were faith-based and they were fairly inclusive.


A display is pictured in front of the U.S. Coast Guard Station off Philadelphia Avenue.

While most the displays include ecumenical features such as Santa Claus, elves, candy canes, toy soldiers and the like, there were two Christian-themed displays including a nativity scene and a “Happy Birthday Jesus” message. There are also two Jewish faith-based displays including a Menorah and a “Happy Hanukkah” message. Waters said while there is no formal policy in place, the intent is to be inclusive tolerant and exercise common sense in an era when common sense is often in short supply.

“Our holiday displays and our Winterfest of Lights event are enjoyed by thousands of people each year,” she said. “We welcome people of all faiths or no faith to enjoy our dazzling displays of holiday lights and our popular Winterfest of Lights event.”

Waters said the few faith-based displays among the hundreds in Ocean City were donated over the years and remain part of the overall festive theme in the resort this time of year. She also evoked the “reason for the season” mantra, regardless of one’s faith.

“Our faith-based displays were donated some time ago and have been enjoyed by visitors ever since,” she said. “After all, these faith-based holidays are the foundation of the season which we are celebrating.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.