City council approves display of holiday menorah

Ontario, Ohio, is a relatively small city halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. Its attractions include the Ohio Bird Sanctuary and the Biblewalk museum of waxworks displays.

And now for the first time ever, its city council has approved a display of a religious symbol on public property.

Frontlinesohio reports that council members voted 5-1 to allow a privately sponsored menorah commemorating Hanukah to be placed in the city’s Marshall Park for two weeks.

Council member Sherry Branham said, “I honor everyone’s religion and I am proud of what the menorah stands for. I think it is the right thing to do by supporting Mr. [Benjamin] Mutti as he educates his children.

“I do not feel he has jeopardized anybody in Richland County, especially those in the City of Ontario,” she said.

Mutti reported that several nearby communities already have holiday religious displays on public property during the holidays, including a nativity at the Columbus Statehouse.

The U.S. Supreme Court, on a 7-2 vote, upheld the right to display the Mount Soledad Peace Cross on public grounds in 2019 as a World War One memorial.

The subject of a display’s constitutionality was considered by the council, and council President Eddie Gallo explained, “At some point we have to be bold. We have to trust our community and be willing to fight. As public servants we have to recognize and be in tune with the pulse of our community. I believe this is a faith-based community. I believe that not just Ontario but all of Richland County is faith-based… I am not interested in the beliefs of Los Angeles or Columbus for that matter.”

Councilman Dave Rehfeldt put it more practically, “Which side do we want to be sued by? By the group that has a legitimate right to display? Or by the group we agree we would not want? I have no problem fighting for this (menorah) display. I think we all agree with what this group wants to do. I am tired of being afraid of things that could happen.”

Marshall Park also will feature a Christmas tree lighting in December, where several high school music groups will perform.

Mutti noted, “I had council members from different sides of the political spectrum talk to me about their support of the menorah and religious freedom. There is a real respect for faith traditions in Ontario and it appears to have a unifying force. People remember the famous ‘Silent Night Christmas Truce’ where opposing armies during World War One ceased fighting to celebrate the Christmas holiday together. In the same way, it is encouraging to see elected officials come together in our day and respect the local faith traditions of their constituents. In this day and age, it truly is a battle to keep our local identity.”

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