PIEDMONT — After the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation told the city that its Christmas Parade theme "Keep Christ in Christmas" was unconstitutional, local officials agreed to drop it, but the Piedmont residents didn’t as they marched and rode in the event Thursday.
Residents lined Piedmont streets for the hour-long parade, which included Boy Scout troops, the high school marching band, beauty queens and several church floats. Many of the participants held hand-lettered signs that read “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and several spectators carried hand-held poster boards with the same message.
“They thought they were going to ruin our Christmas parade, but they wound up making it better than ever,” said Mayor Bill Baker. “I am so proud and thankful that we had people willing to stand up for their Christianity.”
A local store wrote on its Facebook page that it made 70 "Keep Christ in Christmas" T-shirts on Wednesday. Several dozen residents also paid a $5 entry fee to be part of the parade after they found out the city was dropping the theme. They marched as a group wearing the T-Shirts and holding the signs Thursday night.
Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said by phone that people in religious communities misunderstand the group's motives, and added that the group does not work to keep individuals from expressing their beliefs.
“We're simply saying that the government, which belongs to all of the people, not just Christians, can't celebrate the Christian aspects of Christmas,” Seidel said.
That message had not reached many of the residents who attended the parade Thursday, some of whom said it was unfair for a small group of people to determine how the majority recognizes the holiday.
"I'm not trying to convert them, but I just wish they would leave us alone," said Korean War veteran James Bonds as he sat watching the parade.
Seidel said his group works to protect the minority of non-religious Americans. About 4.8 million people live in Alabama and, according to the group's letter to the city, approximately 200 of the state's residents are members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"It's unreasonable to allow the First Amendment to be violated," Seidel said. "When a city or town or local government endorses one religion over another it violates the Constitution."
Rodney Ragsdale pastors Trinity Missionary Baptist Church and on Thursday drove a van with a banner that read "Keep Christ in Christmas." Behind it the church float featured a wooden cross lined in Christmas lights, angels and a man dressed as Christ.
Smith said he is glad the group decided to challenge the city's parade theme.
"We appreciate it," Smith said. "It made the community come together for the right reason."
Piedmont dentist Staley Colvert watched the parade from outside his practice, where a few other local residents had gathered on the street. Colvert said he thinks the foundation went too far when it called on Piedmont to drop the parade theme.
"I totally disagree with it," Colvert said.
Near the end of the parade, a block of last-minute parade entrants passed by the dentist office. They marched in a group like protesters holding signs and singing "Jesus loves me."
"The whole thing struck a nerve, obviously," Covert said.