The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Holiday displays could be banned in Sanborn Square

By Sallie James

    The Boca Raton City Council July 25 introduced an ordinance that would ban the practice of allowing private individuals or entities to place “unattended, expressive installations, displays, exhibits and similar objects” in Sanborn Square during the winter holiday season.
    Chalk up the proposal as a win for at least one Palm Beach County resident.
    “I think religion poisons everything,” said Preston Smith, a middle school teacher from Lantana and self-proclaimed atheistic satanist. He erected a controversial pentagram display at Sanborn Square last year and is happy the city may soon ban the practice. “Let the community decide how much they want to mix religion in government property.”
    Smith erected the pentagram and a banner disavowing the existence of heaven and hell in December and wasn’t surprised when it was vandalized eight times. He wanted to let others know that atheists in the community have the same right to make a statement as Christians, Jews and any other religious groups.
    The pentagram display was erected under the protections of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion and speech. The city has allowed religious groups to set up seasonal displays such as a Nativity scene and a menorah in the park, at 72 N. Federal Highway, since 1990.
    Preston thinks the practice becomes problematic when someone erects a display that doesn’t mesh with what most people think is acceptable, which is what happened with his pentagram display.
    “It’s not my place to decide what the city wants, but I intend to put up the satanic display for years to come as long as other religious displays are allowed. That is not a bluff, not a threat, but that is equal rights for all,” Smith said. “The Supreme Court has been clear if you allow one you better be ready for anything.”
    The proposed ordinance, which will be voted on at a later date, says the city “does not intend to limit other forms of expressive activity” within Sanborn Square, including protests, rallies, speeches and the carrying of banners or other similar types of messages.
    Smith said he would consider it a “win” if the city approves the proposed ordinance.
    “That is strict adherence to the separation of the church and the state,” he said. “That is my ultimate goal. But if they have a city-owned Nativity and menorah, they can expect a lawsuit from me and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose attorneys have indicated they will fight.”

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