By Charles Sercombe
Last month the city council agreed to allow a nativity scene be set up in Pope Park.
Since then, no one has come forward to erect a creche.
But a pagan group sought permission at Tuesday’s city council meeting and received permission to set up a Yule Altar today, Friday, Dec. 20, at 8 p.m., followed by a ceremony and short play.
The request was made by Hamtramck residents Hillary Cherry, a government watchdog and her husband, Steve, a member of the city’s Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.
In an email to the council, the couple noted the constitution and Supreme Court decisions to uphold their right to express their faith in the park.
“As this time of year is celebrated by many faiths, and because of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and a number of U.S.
Supreme Court decisions, it’s our hope that you will grant similar permission to Hamtramck’s Kinfolk community, sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘Heathens,’” they said.
The council, except for Councilmember Tom Jankowski, agreed to the request, but not first without some questioning.
Jankowski repeatedly asked what a Yule Altar is, but got no response, other than Councilmember Robert Zwolak saying: “You’ll know.”
A Yule Altar, according to Internet sources, is an altar with a cauldron or bowl set on top and draped with a cloth. Various items are placed on top, including evergreen garlands, candles, Wiccan symbols, pine cones and other items representing the season and woodland animals.
At the time the council approved the nativity scene, Hillary Cherry cautioned the council that legal action could result, and that the monument of Pope John Paul II could even be taken away.
Gordon said at that previous meeting she doubted any other religious group would want to set up a display in Pope Park because it is in honor of Pope John Paul II. Gordon said that although she is a “devout” Catholic, she voted in favor of the pagan ceremony not based on her faith.
Zwolak supported the request because “Hamtramck is a community of diversity.”
The issue of using public space to display symbols of faith has been roiling in the courts for years. There are those who say the display of religious items on public grounds violates the constitution’s separation of church and state, while those in favor say they are expressing their First Amendment rights.
The matter has come to a potential confrontation in Oklahoma’s state capitol, where Republican legislators cleared the way to allow a monument of the 10 Commandments to be erected on the grounds of the capitol.
A Satanist group has followed with a request to construct a monument, and now a Hindu group wants to set up a statue of a monkey god, the Hindu god “Hanuman.”
Will Hamtramck’s Pope Park be the next battleground?
(Editor’s note: The printed version of this story contained the wrong word for crèche.)