The Evergreen Park and Recreation District board has approved a resolution permitting the display of a menorah and other religious icons during holidays at Evergreen Lake Park.
Before voting on the resolution along with two policies limiting religious displays at district parks at the April 24 meeting, board members listened to comments from community members and offered differing opinions.
Board member Peter Eggers expressed opposition to religious icons at EPRD parks but agreed to their placement at the Lake Park, which is Denver property. “If I had to decide, I would vote for inclusion,” he said. “This has reached an iconic religious symbolism. … The White House has a menorah-lighting ceremony and a tree.”
Board member Kit Darrow opposed all religious holiday displays, saying they were not appropriate for public parks. “In my opinion, the park and recreation department is in the business of providing parks services,” Darrow said. “I am interested in separation of religion and parks and recreation entities.”
Rabbi Jamie Arnold of Congregation Beth Evergreen and Levi Brackman, rabbi and president of the board at Judaism in the Foothills, both expressed their appreciation to the EPRD board for permitting the menorah display during the Hanukkah celebration last December.
“I’m delighted,” said Brackman. When a Jewish child goes to the Lake House and sees the menorah, he feels included, Brackman said.
Last December, Brackman challenged the district's decision to prohibit a menorah display at the lake, a decision that later was reversed.
Arnold said that although the placement of one religious symbol at a park would be a violation of the First Amendment, permitting multiple religious displays would not.
“It would be best to create an inclusive policy,” Arnold said.
At the beginning of the discussion on a holiday display policy at Evergreen parks, EPRD board President Janet Heck Doyle mentioned the controversy that arose last December. Because the park property is owned by the city of Denver, EPRD initially decided not to allow the menorah in 2011, even though it had been displayed for several years previously.
“It is now the staff decision of EPRD,” Doyle said. The Evergreen district received a letter from Denver Parks and Recreation dated April 20 stating that it will permit EPRD to determine the holiday decoration policy for Evergreen Lake Park until further notice.
“The spirit of conversations was that Denver is now in agreement that we have the best sense of community desire,” said Scott Robson, EPRD executive director. “I think they would be fine on a display at the Lake Park.”
While the board was reviewing a draft of the holiday decorations policy stating that EPRD would only display non-religious decorations at its parks and that it would defer to the holiday decoration policy of owners of other parks and facilities in the area, Doyle offered a resolution addressing Evergreen Lake Park.
The resolution that passed with a 3-1 vote along with the two-part policy reads: “The EPRD shall permit in a spirit of inclusiveness of all faiths the display of decorations both specifically relating to, and not relating to a religious or non-religious body at Evergreen Lake Park.”
While commenting that the board discussion was a healthy one, resident Mark Dickhoff said, “There are some very slippery slopes” with religious displays at parks. “All it takes is one controversy,” he said.
EPRD board member Mark Footer said, “We are expected to make decisions within the wishes of the community. I feel that it is the wish of the community that we would not restrict and exclude this type of display.”
There is a significant Jewish community in the Evergreen area, according to membership records for local congregations. Approximately 125 families are members of Congregation B’nai Chaim in Morrison, and 200 families are members of Congregation Beth Evergreen.
Brackman said that 350 people are on the mailing list for Judaism in the Foothills, which has no formal membership.
Contact reporter Sandy Barnes at email@example.com or call 303-350-1042.