The Bucksport nativity display on Main Street. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A nativity scene that has been displayed in downtown Bucksport for decades was put back up last week after its brief hiatus caused uproar in town.

The town installed the municipally owned plastic baby Jesus along Main Street Friday after the Town Council decided it would make space for other non-Christian holiday displays.

Town officials took the nativity off the small town-owned parcel earlier this month after a secular group asked if it could put a holiday banner up adjacent to the manger.

The nativity scene has been displayed in town for at least 50 years. Once owned by workers at the town’s former paper mill, it was later given to the municipality. It’s been displayed on the town-owned water fountain on Main Street ever since.

After noticing that the town displayed Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three wisemen on public property, the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation requested that it also be allowed to put up a banner earlier this month.

The foundation proposed a banner celebrating the winter solstice and the signing of the Bill of Rights.

Town Manager Susan Lessard said that the town would likely have to accommodate other holiday displays if the municipality owned and put up the religious symbol on town property.

While figuring out the best way to handle the request, the town took the nativity scene down to be sure it wasn’t violating any laws.

The nativity scene’s absence lasted just over a week, causing residents to pack the council’s meeting Thursday night. For nearly an hour, residents called for the scene’s return. Business owners and ministers of several local congregations offered to harbor baby Jesus and display the scene on their own property.

Most thought Lessard’s plan to set up another area on the town’s property near the bridge to Verona Island was a good idea if it allowed for the nativity to be restored.

“There should be room for both displays,” said Jackie Dunbar, a Bucksport resident. “Maybe not beside each other.”

Others didn’t like the idea of giving the Freedom from Religion Foundation space, saying that the chapter president who made the request didn’t even live in town.

“I think that if somebody is going to do [another display], they should reside in Bucksport,” said Bob Mercer.

Several people who identified themselves as Christians felt like the foundation was punishing them for their faith and if the town let the group put up their banner, requests for other displays could come pouring in.

“If you do it this year, you’re opening Pandora’s box,” said resident Jerry Meltzer.

In the end, the council decided to go with Lessard’s plan to set up a new area for other displays down the street near the veterans’ memorial. The nativity will remain on the Main Street fountain. The council plans to work next month on a policy for handling these kinds of requests in the future. Lessard said the foundation’s banner was likely going to go up Monday.

Many felt the nativity scene goes beyond just religion and is the embodiment of the town’s history.

“That nativity scene is Bucksport,” said council member Daniel Ormsby, who noted he isn’t even religious. “It’s weird not having it up.”