By Devin Fehely

SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) — There’s been a longtime battle brewing between a religious group, and a county.

The result: a traditional Christian nativity scene was allowed to be set up outside the Santa Cruz Governmental Center Friday.

It is to recognize the “feast of the epiphany.”

The display is only allowed for one day, but it’s a big victory for the small Christian group.

The group’s initial request to display the Christian nativity scene inside the Santa Cruz County government building was denied for safety reasons.

Dat Nguyen who’s part of a small group of Christians calling themselves the Santa Cruz County Nativity Scene Committee says he believes the county frowns upon religious expression of any kind and tried to bar him from putting his faith on display to the public.

“Santa Cruz is not a Christian place,” Nguyen said. “There’s no doubt about that. So, people might have heard about Jesus, but they don’t know much about him.”

“I think safety is being used as a cover — to mask an agenda,” Nguyen said.

The Chicago-based Thomas Moore Society intervened on Nguyen’s behalf.

He was eventually allowed to put the nativity scene up, but outside the county building, a location that county officials insist has always been reserved for free speech.

The reaction to the display was mixed.

“Every religion should have the right to have faith on display in a public setting,” said Santa Cruz resident Vetta Kravchenko. “But my fear is that it won’t bring people closer together.”

Santa Cruz resident Sierra Surabian said, “…As long as it’s religious tolerance and everyone can express their rights, that’s a boundary that can be tricky, but I think it’s acceptable.”

But Nguyen believes it was an important and hard-fought victory for religious freedom.

“Certainly, we don’t want the government telling us what religion is acceptable,” Nguyen said.

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