A small crowd of people gathered at the courthouse today to see a live nativity sponsored by the Steel Valley Patriots. Several dozen people were present for the formal program which included a brief sermon and the singing of several Christmas Carols.
“We believe in fiscal responsibility and divine provenance” said Bob Gwin, a founding member of the Steel Valley Patriots. “We just want to make sure that we all celebrate the birth of Christ, which is why we’re holding this event.”
“We are not here to protest, we are here to celebrate” said Dr. William H. Silver of the Bridgewater Presbyterian Church during his sermon. “We are here to declare that Christ was born [...] He gave us this courthouse!”
Jay Paisley, former candidate for Beaver County Commissioner and member of the Steel Valley Patriots, said the event at the courthouse was planned long before recent controversies erupted over Ellwood City’s creche. “We’ve been planning this since summer, it has nothing to do with what was going on in Ellwood City.”
County Commissioners just recently received and approved a request by the group to hold the live nativity, which had originally been described as a “Christmas Program.” Commissioners compared the event to a demonstration or protest as a rational for approving the use of county property for the gathering.
As a condition for use of the property, signs were displayed which read “Event Sponsored By Steel Valley Patriots” and “The county does not endorse or oppose this event.”
“Everybody is so upset at how this country has taken a turn for the worse” said attendee Penny Vula of Ohioville, who also recently attended the rally held in Ellwood City. “Well, it’s taken that turn because we’ve removed scripture from this country. We’ve taken Christ out of everything and replace him with the Antichrist [...] We’re here to support this nativity because the enemy is going to raise its ugly head [...] But there will be momentum now that people see this nativity.”
It is that “momentum” one Beaver County resident said he was concerned with. A lone protester stood during the duration of the live nativity display holding a cardboard sign which read “This Is Wrong.”
The man, who would only identify himself as Ron, said he disagreed with the way county property was being used “I simply do not believe in religious displays on public property.”
“I see this as an endorsement of one particular religion, and I don’t think our government should be doing that” said Ron, who described himself a devout Christian, and an ordained minister. “What’s happening here today is bad for government and bad for religion.”
Jay Paisley insisted the use of courthouse property was not a political statement “We didn’t decide to have the nativity here to make a statement or to cause a controversy, we decided to have it here just because this spot is centrally located and visible from the road.”
“This is not wrong! Jesus Lives” a man yelled from his car to Ron, who was standing next to the road with his sign. Shortly after, two cars got into a minor accident after becoming distracted by the live nativity display.
Throughout the event several protesters confronted Ron, and while a small minority were hostile, most just seemed curious about his point of view. Ron ended up engaging in polite discourse with several of them, including event coordinator Bob Gwin, who brought the man over a cup of hot chocolate and some cookies.
“I didn’t come here to make enemies. I’m not mad at anybody. I came here to state my opinion” Ron told Bob Gwin. “We won’t agree on everything, but it’s important that we can talk, that’s a lot of the problem this country has today” responded Gwin.