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Bethel officials vote to allow religious displays on public land

Religious displays will be allowed on public land in Bethel. 

The Board of Selectmen adopted regulations last night calling for applications to be entered into a lottery if there are too many seeking the same parcel of land.  Selectman Rich Straiton voted in opposition, saying no displays should be allowed, concerned it would lead to a lawsuit or displays that some find offensive.  He believes the displays should go on private property. 

The issue came up after a resident applied to hang a banner, wishing a "happy holidays from your friendly atheist neighbors" on the same property at the same time as a creche.  The Religious Display Committee recommended that the creche and banner be grandfathered in and always allowed, with every other applicant put into a lottery.  But First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker says the town could not legally give special treatment to certain displays. 

Other regulations adopted last night are that a Bethel resident or organization can apply, the application period is October 1st to November 7th.  The holiday displays will be allowed on P-T Barnum Square between the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through January 7th.  Displays can only take up a third of the total square footage of the property.  Applicants must have insurance. 

The Selectmen noted that applications can be rejected for public safety concerns.

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