The City of Moncton has reversed a controversial decision not to display religious symbols, including a Hanukkah menorah and Christian nativity scene, outside City Hall.
The backlash also prompted Mayor Dawn Arnold to apologize for the city’s decision.
During a council meeting Monday, Coun. Dave Steeves introduced a motion to bring back the religious symbols, in the interest of cultural diversity.
That motion passed unanimously, and a menorah lighting ceremony will take place on Thursday.
“We deeply regret the emotional distress caused by our insensitive decision,” Mayor Arnold said during the meeting.
In a statement earlier in the day, the mayor admitted there had been “a strong reaction” to the city’s decision, and that they had acted “too quickly.”
“As a growing city, Moncton is continuously evolving its posture with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion. The City wanted to be more inclusive toward our community by repositioning these faith symbols; however, we obviously fell short in this transition,” she wrote in an email.
“We recognize the lack of reflection and understanding of the impact of this decision has had on our community.”
The menorah, which is part of Hanukkah celebrations, has been on display outside Moncton City Hall for 20 years.
The Moncton Jewish Community, a group representing about 100 families in the region, released a statement Friday calling the decision not to display it “unfair” and explained that it “hurts profoundly the Jewish population of Moncton.”
Francis Weil, the president of Moncton Jewish Community, pointed out that the city currently has displays that include wreaths, Christmas trees and angels — which also have religious connotations. Weil said the Jewish community has had no problems with those displays, but questions why the menorah couldn’t be displayed.
He added that Hannukah is actually a time to celebrate freedom of religion because it honours the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
“For us and for the whole world, Hanukkah means freedom of religion because at that time we’re free again to practice our own religion in the midst of other religions. So, in fact, menorah is a symbol of of freedom to practice whatever reason you want to practice,” he said.
Weil said since news of Moncton’s decision was made public, the local Jewish community has received messages of support from across the country, the United States, and Europe.
The Town of Hampstead in Quebec went as far as to order a second menorah — to be displayed in support of Moncton.
“This decision didn’t just impact the Jewish community in Moncton. This was a slap in the face to the entire Jewish community across Canada,” said Hampstead Mayor Jeremy Levi.
“To be inclusive means to embrace and it’s not just enough to tolerate, but to embrace all cultures, all religions, all faiths.”
Back in Moncton, Weil said he holds no ill will towards the city, but did worry the decision would give Moncton a bad reputation for being an unwelcoming place.
“The mayor is a good person and the council are good (people). I think they were ill advised by somebody who gave them the wrong advice,” said Weil.
Council’s decision, which was made in a closed-door meeting last week, also had some councillors upset.
Coun. Steeves, who is also a Baptist pastor, said the decision was disservice to all faiths.
“I’m quite disappointed of the way the decision was made and the way it was handled,” he told Global News Monday.
“To not have the menorah displayed just days before Hanukkah — something that’s happened for years. To not have the nativity scene in front of City Hall and again, it’s been displayed there for years, really has upset the faith communities, and that includes the Jewish community, the Catholic community and the Protestant community.“
Steeves added he doesn’t believe “anybody is out to maliciously hurt anyone” but that there was confusion over the term “inclusion” and it actually meant.
“We’ve heard from the community. Hundreds and hundreds of people have been have expressed their hurt,” he said.
“And when an organization or municipality fumbles, the right thing to do is to humble yourself and to apologize, make things right. And I think that will gain a lot of credibility in the end.”
— with files from Global News’ Suzanne Lapointe