By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs and Satanic pentagrams are still welcome to be put on display at Boca Raton’s Sanborn Square this holiday season.
The city council recently voted down a proposal that would ban private installations at Sanborn Square, which is located at 72 N. Federal Highway.
Under the proposal, the city would be permitted to install a holiday display that could include a Christmas tree, creche and Menorah as well as other holiday symbols, but churches, synagogues or individuals would be banned from putting up removable displays at the park.
The rule was proposed in response to a 10-foot pentagram with the words “In Satan We Trust,” that was placed in Sanborn Square last year. The display caused controversy and concern among city officials and residents.
But residents lined up to speak out against the ban during a public hearing citing concerns over entangling government and religion and eliminating an opportunity for freedom of speech in the location.
“Forget changing the ordinance,” resident Charles Fix said. “Stay with what you have got. It’s the best thing you have.”
Resident Ron Sheldon said it is not the government’s role to control what is displayed.
“They are fantastic traditions,” he said of the displays.
He said a little sensationalism shouldn’t change the rule, reminding the audience that Baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men have disappeared more than once from the display over the years.
“I don’t care what’s displayed,” he said.
The Rev. Andrew J. Sherman of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church said while the pentagram was vile and offensive to him, he understands the importance of free speech.
“We shouldn’t let that embarrassment keep us from doing what’s right,” he said. “We can celebrate our religious traditions in a public space in a way that we honor and respect each other.”
Council members sided with the residents and killed the proposal.
“I was elected to represent the people of the city and I have heard you loud and clear,” councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said.
Councilman Scott Singer called the discussion one of the stranger topics the city has debated.
After hearing from the community, Councilman Jeremy Rodgers said his opinion had changed to vote the rule change down.
“It was embarrassing to have it in my town,” he said of the pentagram. “I really support freedom of speech even for those people whose message I can’t stand.”
City attorney Diane Frieser said the city began allowing private installations in 1990 after a Jewish group wanted to put up a menorah next to the city’s Christmas tree.
A lawsuit filed over the request is what resulted in the current rule on the city’s books.
She said the city can’t ban a display because of its content. That means the satanic display and others can return this holiday season.
The limitation on displays may not come from the content of the display, but come with how much space is available. City officials said they will have to allow the requests on a first-come, first-serve basis.