SCOTTISH church leaders have condemned a “Grinch-like” shopping centre for refusing to stage a nativity scene this Christmas.
Thistles in Stirling flatly declined a request for the traditional display saying customers did not want to be “subjected to individual organisation’s beliefs”.
Shopping centre management refused to budge when an MP urged them to reconsider their ban on “affiliating with any specific religions or beliefs”.
But critics of the centre have accused them of double standards by marketing a Christmas Market this year.
And the Scottish Catholic Church today urged Thistles to abandon its “Grinch-like” stance and reconsider. The Church of Scotland claimed it was “a sad day for all of us”.
Members of the catholic Legion of St Mary’s Association, took to Facebook to complain about the ban, under the heading: “Bring back the nativity scene to the Thistles, Stirling”.
It stated: “Their reason being that despite heavily promoting Christmas for commercial gain, they ‘pride themselves on religious neutrality’ and so won’t allow a nativity to be present any longer.
“While I understand that no one wants religious or political evangelists in a shopping centre, the request was simply to have a nativity, which would be manned and anyone approaching could ask about it.”
A member of the association, Margaret Patterson, complained to her local MP, Stephen Kerr, who wrote to Thistles asking them to reconsider.
They replied: “Thistles shopping centre prides itself on being religiously and politically neutral in its behaviour within the local community and with this in mind we do not feel it would be right to agree to host this type of promotion within a shopping centre.
“Our customers come to enjoy a leisure activity without being subjected to individual organisation’s beliefs.
“We will not be willing to reconsider the application any further and hope that this final decision is accepted.”
Critics of the centre are aggrieved that managers are happy to feature Christmas itself as part of the “retail experience”.
In a press release sent out on November 12, Centre Director of Thistles, Gary Turnbull said: “This year’s Christmas at Thistles promises to be extra special.
“The Christmas Market will be a fantastic new addition to this year’s retail experience.”
A spokesman for the catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said: “At this time of year Christmas cribs grace many public squares all across the British Isles, bringing joy to nearly all who encounter them, regardless of their religion.
“It seems just a wee bit, well, Grinch-like for the Thistles Shopping Centre to ban the Christmas crib and, in the true spirit of Christmas, we would certainly ask them to reconsider their decision.”
A spokeswoman from the Church of Scotland added: ““We find it very disappointing that the true meaning of Christmas has been completely lost here.
“When a shopping centre can focus purely on commercialism to the exclusion of the reason for the celebration of Christmas it is a sad day for all of us.”
Mr Kerr said: “I am disappointed that a rather rigid view seems to have been taken regarding the existing policy.
“Surely there is room for a simple display that may be of interest to people. I would hope that an application from any faith group would be considered on its own merits.”
A spokeswoman from the Thistles Centre said: “While we are sympathetic with Legion of St Mary’s request to have a nativity scene in Thistles Shopping Centre, we are unfortunately unable to accommodate it.
“As is common amongst shopping centres, our policy is to support our local community in celebrating the festive season without affiliating with any specific religions or beliefs.”
A spokesman from the Humanist Society Scotland backed the shopping centre.
Fraser Sutherland, campaigns manager, said: “It should be up to Thistles shopping centre how they lay out or decorate their commercial space.
“Attempts by some to ‘bully’ or ‘demand’ local businesses to display religious iconography in what is an otherwise secular space is somewhat odd.
“No doubt local churches and other places of worship will be displaying fantastic nativity scenes across the festive period that people can engage in if they so wish.”