A Nativity scene in a Woodland, Washington, park was removed Tuesday after city officials said they received complaints questioning the Christmas display's presence on public land.
Officials said the Nativity scene – featuring a manger, baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the three wise men, an angel and several genuflecting animals – would be moved to a privately-owned vacant lot.
The decision came after the city’s attorney advised officials that keeping the display on public property was a violation of federal and state laws.
“I wouldn’t have chosen to do this, but it’s in the best interest of the city to do so,” Mayor Will Finn told Fox 12. “The feedback I’m getting is that it’s in a better spot.”
The Nativity scene itself is privately owned, Fox 12 reported.
The city had allowed it to be displayed at Horseshoe Lake Park for the past few decades, with Finn estimating the manger had been set up in the park every holiday season for the last 40 years.
In recent weeks, however, the city reportedly received several complaints about the religious scene. City Administrator Peter Boyce said he received at least 5 complaints since the display was erected earlier this month.
Among those who sent the city a letter was Marc McVey, who questioned if the manger's presence on public grounds was legal.
“They responded to me today and said they moved it – it was a difficult decision, which I respect,” he told Fox 12. “Believe me, I’m not anti-religious. I think it’s great. I love this holiday season – I have a Christmas tree up myself, but it made me a little bit uncomfortable to have that on public land.”
Jenny Tingley, who had been able to see the Nativity scene from her home, said she was disappointed to see it moved.
“Our grandkids love it when they put little baby Jesus out,” she said. “I didn’t think it was offensive at all. I thought it added to the look of our town when it’s the holidays.”
Boyce said Tuesday the town is now receiving dozens of complaints from residents upset to see the Nativity scene removed from the park.
In a statement, Finn said: “I personally see the Nativity as a symbol of Christmas and feel comfort when seeing it displayed. I’m also grateful for the community’s understanding of the difficult but important decision…This move…puts the Nativity in a more visible location within our city, while respecting the public nature of public property.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this report stated that the Nativity scene was in Oregon. It was in Woodland, Washington.