WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) – The holiday season is a time to celebrate in downtown West Chester, but now the county’s seasonal display has started a Christmas debate.

“Our securely community was reduced to nothing,” said Margaret Downey of the Freethought Society, an atheist organization that promotes discussion of alternative ideas. She pointed out that Christians had a Christmas tree and a nativity scene, and Jews had a menorah.

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For the last three years, the Freethought Society has put up a “Tree of Knowledge” as part of the county’s display. The tree held book covers from atheist and agnostic authors instead of ornaments. This year, the county denied her a place to put her tree.

“They hijacked the free speech zone,” said Downey. “It’s no longer We The People. It’s become we the commissioners.”

County commissioners voted last month to take over the holiday display instead of allowing private displays. And by doing away with the private displays, they did away with the “Tree of Knowledge.”

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“Our decision was to take back the display, do what is traditional, do what the Supreme Court said we can do, and not venture into uncharted waters,” said County Commissioner Terence Farrell.

Philadelphia had a similar problem when the city got complaints about the name of the “Christmas Village” outside City Hall. So they changed it to holiday village, only to change it back when they got even more complaints.

It seems even the holiday season has become a sensitive subject, especially in West Chester.

Reported By: Oren Liebermann, CBS 3

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