HONESDALE—There was outrage aplenty at Monday night's Honesdale Borough Council Meeting in response to a piece of correspondence from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asking for the removal of the cross and star light displays atop Irving Cliff.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization based in Wisconsin whose “...purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters on nontheism,” as expressed in their letter.
They have over 33,000 members nationwide with more than 900 in Pennsylvania.
Dated June 8, 2018 and addressed to Mayor Sarah Canfield, the letter condemns use of both displays on government-owned property.
The letter states “The cross unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.”
Of the star, the letter notes it's illumination around Christmas and “That it is in the same location as the cross – indeed it is mounted as part of the same structure – seems to suggest that the City is celebrating the religious aspect of the Christmas holiday, which is another violation of the First Amendment.”
The letter asks the symbols be taken down or moved to private property immediately.
As of Monday's meeting, no legal action was filed against the Borough to remove the star and cross.
Council accepted the correspondence Monday and relegated the matter to Solicitor Rich Henry for review of the borough's legal possibilities in the matter.
No formal action was taken Monday night.
Public outcry against removal of the star and cross was abundant at the meeting.
Eleven Honesdale citizens raised their voices in a cascade of support for the multi-generational community traditions surrounding the displays.
Most were met with thunderous applause and even a few outcries from the gallery.
Removal of the cross and star “... would be tragic to this town and to this area,” stated citizen Zach Wyckoff, noting the sense of community fostered by the lighting ceremonies for each structure.
“We really need to think about whose interests are being represented and what's at stake here,” he added.
In his capacity as a Honesdale citizen, Bill Canfield addressed Council with a copy of the 1955 deed from Frances Gibbons donating the land to Honesdale Borough.
Reading from an article contemporary to the star's construction, Canfield noted the history of how the star came to be, calling specific attention to $2,467 raised by the community members in 1955 to erect the structure.
“The citizens of this town paid for that star,” he said. “If you want that star taken down, petition the courts, put it on the ballot.”
Statements made by several speakers expressed feelings of minority rule.
Citizen Mary Hessling stated, “Let the American people talk! It's the minority who are winning everything, and we're just standing by watching this all happen.”
Similarly, Suzie Calkin Frisch stated “I feel those who want these traditions to remain and our history to stay intact are being pushed by the wayside.”
Frisch also raised concern that the letter was sent in June and not discussed publicly until Monday's meeting.
Mayor Canfield was not present at the meeting, reportedly due to a family emergency, and could not speak to this.
Other speakers rallying support for the light displays and offering to help fight to keep them included: Judy Castek, Michele Frigoletto, Jeff Hiller, Rudy Schemitz, Michael Lehutsky, Sandra Rickard and Thomas Sieg.
None who spoke at Monday's meeting were in favor of removing the star and cross.
In response to the public's sentiment, Honesdale Borough Council President Michael Augello stated, “This is not our decision to make. This is our decision to research and find out what we can do...We have to follow the law.”
Augello expressed his understanding of residents' concern, reiterating that the matter is under review.
Audio of the meeting can be found here: