New Castle News

December 8, 2012

A moving message: Ellwood creates mobile Nativity

MaryAlice Meli
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Mike Parisi scoffs when called a genius for his idea that places the Nativity at the municipal building — legally.

Even an attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation gave it a positive nod.

“A mobile nativity? It’s certainly creative,” Andrew Seidel said. He later characterized it as “a kind of childish kicking and screaming tactic,” although he added it’s an idea his group might nab to display their solstice banner.

The membership of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics threatened to file a lawsuit unless the borough removed the display from government property as a violation of the Constitution. Borough council voted 4-3 earlier this year to remove it despite protests from citizens and churches.

Parisi, an Ellwood City trucker, said, “I’m no Einstein, just the one who happened to come up with the idea because I was so frustrated.”

Frustrated, he said, when council voted to move the 60-year-old tradition from the municipal building on Lawrence Avenue to private property.

The Nativity had been donated to the borough by a private party, but when council voted not to display it on government property, the individual asked for its return and donated it to the Loyal Order of Moose. That donation may have stirred the imagination of Parisi, a longtime Moose member.

Parisi’s idea was to display the Nativity on a trailer, owned by a Moose member, to be parked in front of the municipal building facing the street so passing motorists can see it. Parisi presented the plan to the membership as a fundraising idea to benefit Mooseheart, a residential child care facility and school funded by Moose International near Aurora, Illinois.

Councilman George Celli said about 200 people attended the unveiling yesterday.

Parisi said, “People were really fired up and came out in the rain,” and donated about $300 to Mooseheart.

Mayor Anthony J. Court said from what he’s heard from people, “The message is clear in Ellwood City. The community wants to support this, to keep the Christ in Christmas, and they’re not going to be denied this because of an outside group.

“This group that came forward caused our community to be stronger in faith and our beliefs,” Court said. He added that there are more private nativity displays around the borough this year, making the holiday bigger than ever in Ellwood.

One of the larger displays was funded by attorney Joseph Bellissimo and may be seen in front of the former St. Agatha Church at Fifth Street and Spring Avenue.

Seidel said all private displays are constitutional including the one on the trailer. His concern, he said, is that “all laws are being obeyed. If the borough gives the display special treatment, then we’re back to square one.” Seidel added that locals will keep an eye on it and will report to the Wisconsin group if parking restrictions are not obeyed.  

Parking is free in Ellwood City during the holidays, but only for two-hour segments. The parking official will chalk the tires of those who exceed two hours after which they will receive a ticket. Parisi said that if the parking officer marks the trailer’s tires, he will move it and return later.

Seidel said, “This shows how divisive religion can be. People are free to worship but government is not free to worship any (religion). Ellwood City needs to be careful. If there’s any preferential treatment given, we’ll be back at the beginning of this whole mess.”

Parisi said he has another idea for lighting the display at night. He’s going to outfit it with solar lights. He said contributions may be made to the Mooseheart fund at: Ellwood City Moose Lodge 93, 1400 Factory Ave., Ellwood City, PA 16117.