BETHLEHEM It started on the ides of December. Elena Marcelle, a resident of Bethlehem, petitioned the town to place her “Merry Christmas” sign at a small public park where Kenwood and Delaware avenues intersect – commonly known as the Four Corners – just as she had done five years before.
She was denied.
“Five years ago, I petitioned the town to allow me to purchase and hang a “Merry Christmas” sign on the lighted holiday tree at the [Four] Corners,” Marcelle wrote to Melissa Kermani, chairperson of the Bethlehem Republican Committee, after she received her rejection from Town Supervisor John Clarkson, who is a Democrat. “The town allowed me my request [five years ago]. When I requested the same of the town this year,” stated Marcelle, “not only was I denied, but the town retaliated and took down the “Happy Hannukah” sign.”
The quaint park where the signs once stood lies in the crook of the busiest intersection in Delmar, a town of roughly 33,000 people. There, Kenwood Avenue connects residents of Slingerlands to those of the “Tri-Villages” of Delmar, Elsmere and Glenmont; And, Delaware Avenue, once a major outlet connects the City of Albany to communities out west.
Marcelle reached out to Kermani after seeking out the Alliance Defending Freedom advocacy group out of Scottsdale, AZ. The Alliance is an organization that defends the right of people to live out their choice of religious faith.
“It was brought to our attention by Dr. Elena Marcelle that you have decided to remove a “Merry Christmas” sign from Town of Bethlehem property because you are concerned that allowing the sign to stay might violate the United States Constitution,” stated Alliance attorney Joseph E. La Rue in a Dec. 17 letter to Clarkson. “As this letter will explain, the Establishment Clause allows the Town to place the Merry Christmas sign on its property.”
La Rue cited Lynch v. Donnelly, an example of case law that concluded with the US Supreme Court deciding in favor of the City of Pawtucket, R.I.’s nativity display, a tradition the city had followed every year since World War II.
“The irony is not lost on us that your Town’s name is Bethlehem,” wrote La Rue. “We hope that Bethlehem, New York, will make room for a sign to wish those who drive by the Four Corners a ‘Merry Christmas’