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Wausau mulls request for live nativity on The 400 Block

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WAUSAU — City leaders will consider amending the current events policies and procedures, in response to a request for a private nativity scene display on The 400 Block in downtown Wausau.

The verbal request was issued last week by a private citizen in Wausau calls for a partnership with several local churches for a nativity display during the upcoming holiday season. A written application has not yet been submitted, so officials are as yet unsure of the scope and duration of the requested event, including whether live animals will be used.

Officials are concerned the display could violate the Establishment and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment if placed on government property.

The Establishment Clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. The display of either the menorah or nativity scene alone likely violates the Establishment Clause, based on several U.S. Supreme Court cases, according to city documents.

City officials could potentially avoid legal consequences if requests for the displays are either allowed or denied through a permitting process. In some cases, issuing permits on a first-come, first-serve basis after a fair opportunity for review could mitigate legal concerns.

In a written memo to staff, City Attorney Anne Jacobson is recommending that council members consider amending Wausau’s current events application form and establish a written policy to avoid arbitrary or hasty decision-making for event requests.

Members of the city’s parks and recreation committee will review the issue during their regularly schedule meeting, slated for 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5. A Wausau Pilot and Review documenter will attend the meeting and provide a written report for readers.

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