The Illumination of the Greenbelt, the fourth part of Blount County’s Hometown Christmas, attracted approximately 250 people to see the Christmas tree lit at the Pistol Creek Station in downtown Maryville on Monday, Dec. 7, but saw the end of a quarter-century tradition of reading the story of the birth of Jesus from the Bible.
At issue was whether a Biblical reading was appropriate at a city-sanctioned event on city property. Pam Arnett, public information officer for the city, said Mayor Tom Taylor received a call last week from an individual concerned about the reading of a biblical passage.
“The individual was not upset,” Arnett said, “but was concerned about the separation of church and state.”
She said Melanie Davis, attorney for the city, researched the issue and found that the reading “is not allowed.”
Davis said the city is simply complying with the law. The removal is, she said, “based on Supreme Court decisions, a lot of them over the years” dealing with the church-state separation issue.
“I felt it required us not to do that,” Davis said.
Arnett stressed that the decision to remove the reading should be construed only as the city’s obligation to comply with the law.
Walker Johnson has read the passage from the Scripture of Luke each Christmas season for the past 22 years. The event was removed from the official program after Davis ruling. However, Maryvillian Samuel David Duck did read from his own Bible as a group of 20 or so people gathered around him. Duck , an employee of the E.W. Scripps Company, is also running for governor under the “One Nation Under God” platform, according to reports in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Other traditions of Illumination of the Greenbelt continued, with the tree lighting, music, candy hunt and the arrival of Santa Claus on the Sanitation Santa truck. Santa made his way across the bridge to the rotunda of the library, where he sat for photos and to hear Christmas wishes.
The City Carolers, an adult choir made up of employees of the City of Maryville, were on hand to provide some musical Christmas cheer, and youth show choir All That Jazz added a little pizzazz.
The Illumination of the Greenbelt and all Hometown Christmas events are sponsored annually by Blount Today and Maryville Alcoa Blount County Parks and Recreation.