The nativity scene is back on display today in the lobby of the Ottawa Hospital. That, after the hospital was flooded with calls and emails over its decision to keep the religious symbol in a box this year bucking a decades-long tradition. The crèche is back in the spot where it has been in the past in the lobby of the General campus at the Ottawa Hospital. It's a fairly small display but with a powerful religious overtone. Enough to cause folks on both sides of this issue to draw a line in the sand and say "enough." For Rolande Hachey, its return prompted a spontaneous round of applause.
‘Yeah, the nativity is back,’ she and her friend yell, as they stand in front of it.
More than just a religious symbol for these women it's a fight over religious freedom.
‘I think this hospital needs that,’ says Hachey. ‘It’s the foundation of this hospital by the nuns so it' not right to remove that.’
Indeed, the Ottawa Hospital had religious roots through the Sisters of Charity. But the hospital has changed and so too, has its religious bent.
Mathew Sypher, who dresses in Gothic style, works in a café at the hospital and says he find the nativity scene a personal affront.
‘I’m offended by the Christian presence (of this) in a public domain. I come to work here every day dressed like this and I’ve had a lot of discrimination from people like that, so seeing it in my workplace force offends me.’
After some complaints over the years, The Hospital decided not to display the nativity scene this year “in the spirit of inclusion and the hopes of creating a welcoming atmosphere" it said in a statement. That prompted an outrage among patients and staff.
‘Everybody has their own belief,’ says Bob Lambert, in front of the crèche, ‘and my belief is that it isn't doing anybody any harm here.’
One of those pushing for the return of the nativity scene promptly started a petition and, within days, got 600 signatures. And the crèche was back.
‘It’s not just about being Christian,’ says Elizabeth Kujbida, ‘I am Christian and many people are Christian but (the issue is) not to take away a tradition for so many years. It was here and nobody was bothered by it.’
Peter Beyer is a professor in Religious Studies at uOttawa and says it's tough for public institutions such as schools and hospitals to draw the line on religious freedom.
‘How much should religion be in public square,’ says Beyer, ‘what constitutes privilege in Christianity over other religions? These aren't things you can look up in a textbook and say there's the answer.’
For today, for the Ottawa Hospital, the return of this nativity scene is the answer to quelling a storm of controversy.
‘It’s part of Christmas and I don't think you should take it away,’ says Gerald Lagrave in front of the nativity scene at the hospital.