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Religious tolerance celebrated here
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Updated: 04/19/2014 08:00:01AM

Religious tolerance celebrated here

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It’s official: Bartowans once again may invoke God’s blessings on the community, and may further declare that Wise Men Still Seek Him.

They just have to keep their declarations on signs no larger than six square feet, located at least five feet from the right-of-way, with a limitation of three declarations per house.

With those amendments to the city code, hopefully the city has put to rest its biggest non-issue in years.

Things went awry last fall when a code enforcement official decided that temporary-style plastic signs, distributed prior to the Fourth of July, proclaiming “God Bless America” and displaying a two-color American flag, had been up long enough.

One call to a Tampa TV station turned into an effort by some zealots throughout the land to declare Bartow to be America’s Godless Gomorrah, the City That Banned God.

In truth, it was an effort to reduce the number of yard signs displayed in Bartow, a well-intentioned initiative if a less than brilliant public relations move.

If the signs had said “See Rock City” or “Got Milk?” or “Festivus for the Rest of Us,” there would have been no controversy. But an action directed at aging signs was misrepresented as an action directed at an ageless God.

City government moved into high gear to declare that God was as welcome as ever in Bartow, and placed a moratorium on removal of temporary-style yard signs.

Earlier this month, new rules, enumerated above, were enacted by the Bartow City Commission to protect “non-commercial removable signs” on residential property. The “God Bless America” signs are welcome once again, as are the “Wise Men Still Seek Him” signs distributed prior to Christmas.

That’s one small step for ... well, you get the idea.

As Christians throughout the world celebrate Easter and Jews celebrate Passover, let us rejoice that neither “political correctness” nor fear of lawsuits interferes with religious observances in Bartow.

An interdenominational “Cross Walk” on Good Friday ends at the city’s Fort Blount Park — the approximate site of Bartow’s first permanent residence — and an Easter Sunrise service is held at the city’s Mosaic Park.

A “Celebrate Jesus” downtown parade and Mosaic Park concert last Saturday drew participants from several cities in Polk County.

In an era when lawsuits regularly challenge Nativity scenes on public property and the federal government is now having to defend a Cross on a monument in a military cemetery against a court challenge, we take pride in the fact that traditional Judeo-Christian values are respected in this community.

This respect does not equate to universal acceptance of those values, but it signifies a spirit of willingness to allow those of us who do embrace them to make a public display of our beliefs.

It speaks well of our community.

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