Thousands of Collins residents packed Main Street to oppose a legal complaint about the religious displays in the city's Christmas decorations, but the Freedom from Religion Foundation says that does not mean the decorations can legally stay in a public park.
Elizabeth Cavell, staff attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation who filed the complaint after being contacted by a resident, said public opposition is common when a city with a large religious population receives a complaint.
"Having the government take any action that would make them more religiously neutral or correct a state/church violation, is often not very popular, and there's a lot of outcry," Cavell said.
Collins resident Regina Daughdrill said she thinks the organization is just trying to harass the city.
"It's just a small town, a southern town, that they think that they can bully an make us do what they want us to do," Daughdrill said.
Cavell said her foundation only became involved to enforce what the constitution mandates.
"If the park is as it appears to be from the photographs that we've received, then as long as it stays in that form, it remains a legal liability for the city," she said. "The overall effect of having a Christian public park on city property is a constitutional violation."
Daughdrill said there are both religious and secular decorations in the park.
"There's something for everyone," she said.
Cavell said even if the majority of residents want to keep the decorations, they still violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
"It might feel to the majority in Collins like every single person in Collins, Miss. is a Christian and wouldn't object to this display," Cavell said. "It might feel like that, but it's not true. I understand that there is a lot of popular outcry about keeping the religious displays on public property, but that's irrelevant to whether or not these displays are lawfully on city property."
Cavell said she is waiting on a response from the city before she can determine if the organization needs to take further legal actions. She said in a case like this, she would expect the city to comply and remove the religious displays. Collins Mayor V.O. Smith said he is currently working with the city attorney to determine the next step for Collins.