Nativity scene back at Gig Harbor park after City Council reverses stand

The Nativity scene is back at Gig Harbor’s Skansie Brothers Park, two years after the city removed it when a Wisconsin-based group threatened to sue over the display.

The City Council voted Nov. 26 to allow a Nativity scene — baby Jesus, three wise men and other religious icons — displayed at the park at 3211 Harborview Dr.

This vote reversed a decision the council made in 2016 when the Freedom From Religion Foundation — an atheist, agnostic and “free thinker” organization — threatened to sue if the city allowed a Nativity scene on public property.

The group contended that would be against the constitution and cause a conflict between church and state.

City officials disagreed but did not challenge the contention and did not allow resident John Skansie to put the scene on public property, as he had done for nearly a decade.

This year, City Council members Spencer Hutchins and Jim Franich worked to bring back the Nativity scene.

“The Nativity is a symbol of the season,” Franich said. “Everybody celebrates Christmas Day, Dec. 25, as it’s the birth of Christ. The Nativity is simply a symbol of honoring the birth of Christ. I don’t think it’s forcing any particular religion on anybody. I think it’s honoring the day.”

Hutchins and Franich brought the matter back to the City Council, which voted 5-1 to allow the Nativity scene to return to the park. (Councilman Ken Malich did not attend the meeting.)

Councilwoman Jeni Woock was the lone no vote, saying a Nativity scene discriminates against other religions and causes conflict between state and church.

“In order to be constitutional policy, they cannot be promoting or favoring a religious set of beliefs,” Woock said. “And it cannot overly involve the government with religion.”

Franich disagreed, saying Dec. 25 is a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ, and that should stand on its own merit.

“I believe in the Christmas holiday and the tradition of Christmas, and I think the community overwhelmingly supports having the Nativity there,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in bringing back its traditional holiday display.”