CHRISTIANS are celebrating after a Scottish shopping centre U-turned on its “Grinch-like” ban on displaying a nativity scene.
The Thistles Centre, Stirling, was widely condemned for refusing a request for the display, saying shoppers should not be “subjected to individual organisation’s beliefs”.
But after a national outcry over the ban, which included strong condemnation from the Scottish Catholic Church and Church of Scotland, Thistles has backed down and apologised.
Shoppers will now see a nativity display for one day this Sunday, in line with the original request from Margaret Patterson, a member of the catholic Legion of St Mary’s Association.
She said today (thu): “They told me over the phone yesterday. The lady on the phone was very apologetic and told me they were very sorry for the upset it had caused.
“They said that the person who made the rule no longer works at the centre and they are relenting on the decision.”
She added: “I am so buoyant. It made my day when she told me. I think it’s wonderful.”
The nativity scene will be displayed on Sunday and Margaret will be joined by three other members of the association when it launches.
She said: “The other three people who will be there with me are jubilant that it’s happening.
“We did ask for the Sunday before Christmas but we will take any Sunday that they give us. It’ll be great.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, who previously described shopping centre managers as “Grinch-like” said: “The management of the Thistles Centre, along with owners Standard Life Investments, are to be commended and congratulated for listening to the general public and responding with such generosity and inclusivity, recognising that contemporary Scotland should be a place that both respects and upholds religious liberty in the public square.
“We wish the management, staff, and shoppers at Thistles a very happy and very peaceful Christmas indeed.”
A spokeswoman for the Church of Scotland added: “We are delighted that the Thistles Centre has been inspired with the spirit of Christmas. It’s really good news and we wish them every blessing.”
A spokesman for the Thistles said: ““We’ve listened carefully to everyone who contacted us about the installation and have decided to reverse our original decision.
“We have offered Mrs Patterson the opportunity to host a nativity scene at the centre this Sunday in line with her original request and we are delighted that she has accepted.”
Last week, when the row eruped, Margaret Patterson was in much less forgiving mood.
She said at the time: “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.”
Her local MP, Stephen Kerr, tried and failed to get the management to change their minds.
Thistles replied to his letter: “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.”
One group unlikely to be impressed by the backdown is the Humanist Society Scotland.
They said last week: “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.”