A small group of Beaver County residents tell the Beaver Countian they intend to take action over what they say is the unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity at the Courthouse.
A stroll through the Beaver County Courthouse reveals itself to be in full holiday cheer. Decorated trees adorning the lobby, the second floor rotunda, and the public meeting room where Commissioners hold their monthly meetings. Several row offices within the building contain decorated trees of their own. Wreaths can also be seen throughout the building, including outside of the Commissioners’ offices.
Many of the trees in the courthouse are decorated with secular ornaments, like the tree in the main lobby which is sponsored by Pamela Tesla, who is the wife of Beaver County Judge Kim Tesla. That tree helps to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and was set up by Mrs. Tesla with the permission of County Commissioners in remembrance of her parents who died from cancer. The tree will be adorned with ornaments containing “the names of loved ones in remembrance or in honor of those struck with cancer,” in exchange for $5 donations. Clerk of Courts Judy Enslen is collecting those funds.
In other locations of the courthouse, the holiday decorations are far less subtle or secular.
Signs saying “Merry Christmas” and similar greetings are hung in many locations, including in the Bureau of Elections. A nativity scene sits next to a decorated tree in the Prothonotary’s office. Santas are displayed in abundance
On December 15th a group of citizens will be hosting a live nativity on the courthouse steps. Sponsored by the Steel Valley Patriots, that all-day event will feature Scripture readings, Christmas hymns, and hot chocolate. Commissioners have 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 will be displayed as in the past which read “Event Sponsored By Steel Valley Patriots” and “The county does not endorse or oppose this event.”
That annual nativity event has gone largely without protest, with the exception of one man who held up a sign during its first year.
In what Commissioners have called a matter of Beaver County tradition, a Christian prayer can also be heard before each public meeting with rotating clergy provided to the County by the group Christians United.
A group of citizens from Beaver County tell the Beaver Countian it’s all become far too much. The individuals say they’ll be filing a formal complaint, alleging the County has overstepped its bounds and has violated provisions of the US Constitution which establish a separation between church and state. The individuals, who asked not to be identified by name because they fear a possible backlash, say the case law is clear, County officials know better, and that they intend to hold elected leaders accountable for using public facilities to endorse a particular religion… namely Christianity.
But despite two weeks passing since the group first contacted the Beaver Countian, a search of civil court records shows no formal complaint has been filed in the local courts — several attorneys the Beaver Countian spoke to said the residents would likely have to forgo their anonymity to proceed formally against the County.
The County’s law department told the Beaver Countian they haven’t received any complaints from citizens either.
The Beaver Countian will be following further developments with this story, should they actually further develop.