STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, COLO. (CBS4)– Town officials have blocked a menorah from being displayed on the Routt County courthouse lawn because they said the legality of it is murky, and they wanted to head off any potential lawsuits.
But members of the town’s only synagogue and supporters said it is more a piece of community art than an over-the-top religious symbol.
“Many people, not just us, have said wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Hanukkah blended in to the holiday spirit,” Bert Halberstadt, president of the Har Mishpacha synagogue, said.
Current holiday decor on the Routt County courthouse lawn includes a Santa hut, North Pole and Santa’s mailbox. They are decorated with red and white stripes and pine garland.
For Halberstadt, he feels more decor could be added to the display as a sign on inclusiveness for the community.
“The Christmas tree represents for the whole community a feeling of happiness, seasonal happiness. The same thing (is true) with Hanukkah, but we haven’t had the opportunity to do that,” Halberstadt said.
He said he simply believes there is no controversy.
“We believe simply this is an effort to share and join in the holiday spirit,” Halberstadt said.
Earlier this week the county commissioners disagreed.
“We weren’t going to have any religious displays on the courthouse lawn,” Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said. “The courts have never settled that so we want to stay away from that argument.”
Randy Salky created the menorah and doesn’t feel that it is an overt religious symbol.
“From my perspective, it’s a work of art,” he said. “It also has religious connotations, and it’s going to be lit each night throughout Hanukkah.”
There are lights decorating the pine trees on the lawn and also throughout the town but those are considered decoration for the winter season and will stay lit through March, when ski and snowboard season winds down.
Similar lights are typically found in mountain and ski towns like Breckenridge where they are considered seasonal decor to celebrate an influx of visitors during ski season.
Sullivan said it’s a tough question, and he wishes the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the case.
“If you wanted to find this as a religious symbol that is controlling, even though the context of all this is secular and community-wide, then you have a right to make that decision,” Halberstadt said.
The county manager told CBS that without proper guidance from the Supreme Court, the county felt it would open itself to a lawsuit from any group offended by the menorah.
It’s found a permanent home at the United Methodist church down the street.
There will be a lighting ceremony Tuesday night and a new light will be lit every night for eight nights.