Away in the (Lowell) manger

I’m transcribing the discussion at tonight’s Lowell City Council meeting and the first hour was taken up by a motion to restore the city’s manger (i.e., nativity scene) to city hall. It was an interesting discussion so I decided to post it separately here. Be sure to read all the way to the end to catch the City Solicitor’s comments:

City of Lowell manger on grounds of St Anne’s Church in Dec 2013

Lowell City Council meeting: January 7, 2014

Council suspends the rules to take two motions out of order:

Council support placing manger at JFK Plaza & CM find ways and means to allow residents to donate to a fund to renovate the manger scene:

George Koumentzelis speaks: “I’m here at the request of Council Mercier. I expressed my concerns to her yesterday and she urged me to come here and speak about it. I support both of the motions. As a child my family came to see it not as a religious experience but as a shared cultural experience. I believe that whoever it was that complained about the manger being at City Hall is on shaky ground. This is a precedent that people of this community be they Christian or atheist have all supported this in the past. Everyone thinks of that as a Christian diorama but legally speaking it is not a Christian manger. We live in an ethnic city. We are a microcosm of the United States. That manger is actually pre-Christian. If you look at the manger what do you see. You see a barn with animals. Pagans can relate to that. God wanted the Israelites to be at one with nature. God relinquished that because God is a soft-hearted liberal. This natural tradition goes back to the native Americans who worshiped nature. Then you have Mary, Joseph and Jesus. They weren’t Christians. In the Christian faith, you have to be married to have children. Were Mary and Joseph married? No. So Jesus Christ was an illegitimate child. To be Jewish your mother have to be Jewish. The three wise men were sorcerers who practiced magic. So to the person who complained about this as a Christian symbol, it’s not a Christian symbol. Everyone can related to it. This person offends me. They’re trying to compare apples to apples not pumpkins or grapes. They don’t have a faith. We shouldn’t hide away the manger. The manger should be moved back. I agree with Councilor Mercier. [Editor’s note: I’m not making any of this up].

Next speaker is a pastor, didn’t catch his name. Says his church is made up of 20+ nationalities. We support this motion. We should not fear this. We should have faith that the Father will protect us if we continue this tradition. All religions around the world respect the manger, even Muslims (he’s from Lebanon). Please consider prayerfully and faithfully to bring it back.

Christina Cavalho: The Lord is moving me and the Holy Spirit is moving me to speak about the manger. I was saddened when I noticed it gone until I saw it at the church. I thought it was funny that no one said anything about it in the Lowell Sun. It was only after Christmas when I read in the Lowell Sun that Rita Mercier was saddened by it. But that’s how we are in this country. Jesus is being pushed aside. This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. If George Washington was alive today he’d be mortified. We don’t want to lose our Christianity. I don’t want to talk about politics but I’m here to fight for my savior. This is why Lowell is so unique. It wasn’t because of great men it was because Jesus found favor with us. I don’t make a lot of money; I’m on a fixed income; but I’ll be happy to contribute my money to support this renovation.

Rita Mercier: There are many reasons for this motion. When I filed it, it was before Christmas. It was about putting Christ back in Christmas, in finding the true meaning of Christmas. I thank St. Anne’s for housing it but why it ended up there is beyond me. If we are sued, it’s one lawsuit we should fight all the way. The Lowell Sun had a survey about this and 61% said it was “political correctness run amok.” I agree. It’s easy for people to trash God. No wonder we have so much trouble in society. It’s bizarre that one letter can crush the nativity scene. I don’t care what other people think. I want a roll call vote on this motion so I know who is with me on this. This is our custom. This is our right. If anyone else wants to join us and be over there like a Menorrah, I don’t object to that. This motion is to have my colleagues go on record in support of this. Mr. Manager, you told me a while ago that the manger would be put in a better, more central place. I had a hard time finding it. When I did, it was in total darkness. She offers to donate $100 for the renovation of the manger.

Corey Belanger: I wholeheartedly support this motion and thank the speakers for enlightening us. We’ve all been in the city and seen this display for many years. I always saw it as a celebration of Christmas. It belongs there. Let’s not forget that we had thousands of people who gather there for the city of lights parade. A concern that I have is that it experienced theft and vandalism. I don’t want the community to spend a lot of money on it unless there’s a way to make it more secure and safe that would be great.

Ed Kennedy: To the city manager: can you explain why the manger was moved? It was moved this year for the first time. We received complaints last year. We consulted case law and found that cities had been found liable for placing it on city property. This year we felt we were playing Russian roulette with a law suit so we thought a more appropriate place to display it would be at St. Anne’s, a historic church in the city. We thought it would be more visible for people who were walking through downtown. We know it needs repairs and better lighting. Kennedy: Was there a communication to the council about this? Lynch: No. Kennedy: Why did we change? Where did the complaints come from that caused us to move it? Lynch: In the locations where it has been upheld, it’s part of a much more comprehensive display with snowmen, igloos, a Menorah. This was just a standalone structure on city property. We did not simply say it can’t go up. We found a place for it that people could see it without it being on public land.

Kennedy: Was there a group that threatened to take us to court? Lynch: we got letters from several individuals. Kennedy: I have to think that there are communities where it has been allowed to stand by itself. This is a good motion and we should stay with it. If the law department thinks we need to be more careful about doing it we have time to react.

Milinazzo: I’ll support the motion and thank Councilor Mercier for bringing it up. If you recall about four years ago when we used to open our meetings with the Lord’s Prayer and representatives from everyone in the city approached us and asked us to change that. We did by working cooperatively. We should do the same thing with this to try to make it more representative of the city.

Samaras: I’m a traditionalist and I see its historic value. Perhaps this is the time to amend the motion to make it more inclusive so that every group is represented on the grounds of city hall. We are a nation that is very accepting and we should be a city that’s very accepting. Amends the motion to have the manager work with law department to come up with ways and means to accommodate other groups.

Mercier: I have no objection. We hear about separation of church and state. To me, that means the state can’t establish a religion. This is just celebrating a tradition. Every time we turn around, they’re taking God out of things. If you don’t want to mention God when you’re saluting your country, go to some other country. I’m tired of shaking in our boots any time someone complains about this.

Rourke: It’s a good motion. I’m going to support it. To the manager: Was an attempt made to reach out to other groups to make displays? Lynch: It was more to make a more secular display. we didn’t reach out to other groups. Rourke: It’s a central place that might be set up as a place for people to bring their children in a way that protects the city.

City Solicitor: It isn’t just about avoiding lawsuits; it’s about following the law. It’s very clear that the way we have the manger set up is a violation of the law. In respect to the effort to bring other symbols on board, there is a case that allowed it but it’s not been adopted by Federal courts in Massachusetts and it might not be. Every year, the city has received complaints from residents who are upset by a religious display at city hall. Once you open up government public space to religion, it’s open to all so you have no control over what gets erected.

Roll call: All nine councilors vote in favor of placement at city hall.

Roll call on motion to receive money to renovate: All nine vote yes.

24 Responses to Away in the (Lowell) manger

  1. Gary Francis says:

    Good for the City Council…and thank you to Rita Mercier for having the gumption to put it on the agenda.

  2. shaughnessy says:

    Longtime lurker, first time poster.

    The new year brings more potential lawsuits for the city from a dangerous city council. Why, when they’re told something is illegal, or puts the city at risk of a lawsuit, do our elected officials still proceed as they seem fit with no regard to the law or it’s citizens??

    What i’m reading is: A manger at at church? No! Put it where I want it. I don’t care if we get sued! ‘Merica! Bald Eagle! And so on, and so forth.

    Mind you this is coming from the same councilor who whined about cursive writing and who tried to have our Mayor removed from his seat over hurt feelings.

    The same councilor, mind you, who just said in a public government meeting that her constituents can leave the country if they don’t believe in god.

    Is it just me, or is something just really backwards about this?

    Great blog, by the way! Thank you for being a well needed voice of reason in Lowell politics. I hope more young people, like myself, are following what is going on in our city. This is not what I voted for.

  3. Kathy says:

    I’m stunned at the gaul of the councilors to vote to do something illegal.
    Will they personally pay the lawsuits resulting from their actions?
    And speaking of “that” councilor….. isn’t there a rule against prepared remarks? The councilors are not supposed to be reading speeches on the floor. At least that was the rule for years.

  4. David says:

    Thank you for your comments, Shaughnessy. I cannot believe the half-baked comments that were made at the meeting- Ignorant and totally degrading to anyone who respects the constitution and values the diversity of our city.

  5. Eric J says:

    So, Councilor Mercier is upset about the manger being relocated but she’s down with her expert on Theology declaring that Jesus Christ was a bastard.

    If I had to deal with this mentality on a daily basis I would have resigned too.

    I have a firm belief in God and in the Gospel. I went to Sunday School for 10 years. The Manger, a powerful symbol of Christianity, does not belong on public property in the U.S.

  6. Dawn says:

    The day of the City of Lights Parade, I was working as a volunteer greeting guests outside of City Hall as they entered and left through the side door. A man walked by, shook his head and said, Did you notice the Manger is gone? I told him, “It’s not gone, it’s in front of St. Anne’s Church.” He responded, The manger is gone from here and this is where I have walked to see it for many years. ” He told me that is was a sad day for many who come here regularly to see it. Others gathered around and agreed. He grew up in the Acre and was so disappointed. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was as important to those who wanted it moved. Traditions are a significant part of community connections. It would be great to see this one restored. After all, Santa was there! A.K.A St Nicholas, Father Christmas or Sinterklaas, which was derived from a historical Christian Bishop. I was there ALL day, everyone had fun and no one appeared offended by the presence of Santa. MANY people WERE disappointed that the manger was not there yet I didn’t hear anyone celebrate that it wasn’t.

  7. Renee Aste says:

    We need to consider other types of religious ceremonies/ expression/ local recognition occurs on public property. Khmer New Year and South East Asian Water Festival for example, we have a year to figure out what can work. But to the nativity has been sort if a common example of this situation, but this affects non-Christians as well.

  8. SH says:

    To paraphrase de Tocqueville, who paraphrased de Maistre, every city gets the government it deserves.
    If I gamble, I use my own money.

  9. Mikeal says:

    I have an inquiry drafted to the ACLU already, and will be sending it in later today. It’s a clear cut thing – the Constitution specifies the separation of church and state.

    These people need to go.

  10. Mikeal says:

    Also, please note the use of a public park is very different than the use of the seat of government.

  11. Renee Aste says:

    “JFK Plaza,50 Arcand Drive
    JFK Plaza, adjacent to City Hall and the John F. Kennedy Civic Center, 
    is the site of civic and community ceremonies, festivals, dedications, 
    and farmers’ markets. Each spring the Cambodian community 
    celebrates its largest annual event, the New Year, at JFK Plaza. The 
    New Year celebration includes the raising of the Cambodian flag, 
    alongside the American flag, prayers to welcome the new angels, 
    traditional music, dance, games, and food brought by local families. 
    The ceremony emphasizes the Buddhist faith, with a Buddhist altar 
    constructed on the plaza. In honor of their ancestors, Cambodian 
    community members offer food to Buddhist monks. Cambodian New 
    Year is a time for visiting among family and friends, old and new. “

  12. Joe S. says:

    Since they were warned by the city solicitor, can the councilors lose their qualified immunity to a lawsuit and be made to pay the damages instead of the taxpayers of Lowell?

  13. Jim says:

    I have no problem with the manger being located on City Hall or anywhere else.(St. Anne’s is only 1 block away!) But the city solicitor states that it is against the law!! “It’s one lawsuit we should fight all the way”??? Seriously??? Why don’t you donate $100 to that cause and see who is with you…

  14. George Koumantzelis says:

    Thank you, Richard Howe, for posting this review of the January 7 Lowell City Council meeting. … If you want to hear EXACTLY what I said, one should go here: and watch it on the LTC web site. … “Technically,” what we call Christianity did not begin until the very moment that Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River by his second-cousin, John The Baptist, when he got dunked into the water, the Holy Spirit came down as a dove and “Christened” / “Annointed” him, and then God himself Confirmed it when a voice was heard from Heaven, saying, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” … … Only then did Jesus of Nazareth become Jesus the Christ and begin his mission of gathering disciples and apostles in His holy name – not before. The manger scene was at least 31 years before the baptism, hence – technically – it is “pre-Christian.” … Those are just the facts. Being pre-Christian, more than just Christians can embrace it and relate to it as a multi-cultural, historical, and artistic depiction of a significant event in history that can be appreciated by an ethnically and culturally diverse group of people as we have here in Lowell, Massachusetts. Thank you! – George Nicholas Koumantzelis

  15. DickH says:

    Sorry George, but your logic escapes me. The legal standard in this area is whether the item is predominantly religious in nature. Anyone who argues that a nativity scene is not predominantly religious in nature does not want to discuss this in a rational manner.

  16. Mr. Lynne says:

    By that logic it’s nonsensical to say we celebrate a President’s birthday – because at the time of his birth he wasn’t yet president.

  17. C R Krieger says:

    I am not so sure it is all clear cut about the Creche.   If it is at St Anne’s it is St Anne’s.  If it is on JFK Plaza it belongs to all of us.  The question is, I think, are we being open to all faiths and views in our use of that space.  I thought Renee made a good point further up the comments, about the Cambodian New Year.  Must that go—or are we going to insult our Buddhist friends and neighbors by implying that they are not at the same level as the “Christians”?  That their religion is “No Threat” to our civil government?

    And, as someone suggested, Santa Claus shouldn’t be hanging around either.  Nor Christmas itself.  Actions and decisions have long term consequences.  Logic progresses.  Money can be saved by not putting up the decorations on City Hall.  Frankly, if we eliminate the Creche and Santa Claus, but there is a wreath hanging on City Hall, it will remind me that two thousand years ago a man was born of woman and he would go on die that all might be saved.&nbsps; For me that is enough.

    That, and a Comment preview panel.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  18. George Koumantzelis says:

    Dear Richard,

    I appreciate both your posting of my comment as well as your feedback on it on your web site. Thank you. … Nevertheless – with all due respect – if you really listen to what I said, it is clear that I was not implying that “The Manger” is not religious. I was only trying to prove that it is both “pre-Christian” as well as ecumenical in the sense that more than one faith or philosophy can relate to it. Also, that’s its value to the local community is more than religious; it has set a precedent and a historical tradition of as a civic and cultural event that has taken place over generations. It is also a work of art that has inspired numerous Lowellians to create poetry, paintings, and other works of expression about it. That’s all. …

    Also, please, do not misquote me – and my last name is spelled: Koumantzelis. …

    Lastly, what ever happened to the “free exercise of religion” – ANY religion – in the public sphere? … How is placing a temporary manger a violation of the concept of “the separation of church and state” when NO LAW was passed by the City Council enforcing anyone to ALL practice one and the same state-sanctioned religion? … How is putting a manger there acting in a way that “establishes” a Religion? … It does not. It merely shows respect for ONE of the faiths that comprise the City of Lowell. We should respect ALL of the faiths that LEGITIMATELY comprise the City of Lowell. … City Hall belongs to people of ALL faiths – and to the exclusion of NONE !!

    I am very curious to see what the United States Supreme Court would have to say about all of this. …

    For your readers:


    George Nicholas Koumantzelis

  19. DickH says:

    Sorry about misspelling your name, George. It was unintentional. As to the accuracy of what I posted, I’m a fast typist but you’re a faster talker so I got what I could. I am working to getting a full video clip of your remarks (and Rita Mercier’s too) for posting on YouTube where I’m sure they will be quite popular. Once I do that, I’ll add a link to it on this post so all of our readers will be able to see your entire speech and hear for themselves all the things that you said.

  20. Patrick Martin says:


    You can’t even argue logically with people about this topic, I’ve tried for 15 years. Now I just shake my head and find it amusing. Until it changes at the highest levels of government, it will not change at the local level, and it’s a waste of time to fight about it, which is sad. I would bet anything that not all the councilors agree with this motion- this is grandstanding, and the rest following along for fear of taking what they believe is an unpopular stance, at its best! (worst). I haven’t run for council myself, so I cant criticize them too much… it would not be an easy thing to do, especially for a new councilor, to vote No on that motion, and really, it wouldn’t accomplish much anyway, so the risk vs. reward makes it almost impossible for them… The ironic thing is there are so many people in Lowell that would have deep respect for a councilor who had the balls to speak logically on this subject. I mean seriously, look at the logic behind the arguments in this post. On any topic other than religion, you’d be laughed out of the argument and told to go away. You have a councilor, and former mayor, saying on the council floor “Us”, in regards to her religious group. The councilors represent the citizens of Lowell, including those who belong to different religions or none at all.

  21. Patrick Martin says:

    City Solicitor O’Connor must have been pulling the hair out of her head! The council unanimously votes to break the law. Pure gold!

  22. Jen Myers says:


    The pastor who spoke was Pastor Rafael Najem from the Community Christian Fellowship on Princeton Blvd.