Light Up Dunwoody, an annual holiday event held at the Spruill Farmhouse, will move this year after the trust that owns the farmhouse decided to ban religious symbols. This is the full statement that was provided to the Atlanta Jewish Times by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.
Read the AJT’s full story on the Controversy here: Light Up Dunwoody to Leave Farmhouse
Light Up Dunwoody is a program of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and a beloved tradition for our city. It would be our hope that the tradition continue on the lawn of the Cheek Spruill House and that the programming be focused on family, community holiday fun that is inclusive to all.
A consensus of whether or not a Christmas tree is a secular or non-secular symbol was not determined at last night’s meeting. As it turns out, however, our Dunwoody City Council and the Dunwoody Homeowners Association have already answered that question. In public records and video from the Dunwoody City Council meeting on Sept. 28, 2015, the DHA appealed to the city that Light Up Dunwoody become a signature community event under the pretense that it was a “family event,” a “community block party” and that there are “only secular symbols at the event.” The city council voted in favor of the sponsorship and our own Dunwoody mayor Mike Davis stated, “This is not a nativity scene, this is not a religious scene, this is a Christmas tree.” Even more ironic, however, is that the president and a member of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association had appealed to our organization with a request to display a menorah on the property at a meeting on August 19 — six weeks before requesting city assistance with costs and sponsorship via the above-stated rationale.
While we felt that inclusion of a non-secular symbol was in conflict with our policy of inclusion and secular 501c3 status, it is also in conflict with the Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s own representation of the event in its September 28, 2015, request to the Dunwoody City Council for funding of the event through signature status. The question that should be asked is not about DPT’s position regarding religious symbolism; but rather DHA’s decision on whether they want an event with religious symbolism or do they want city funding and sponsorship. The two are not compatible. What’s more, the legalities of such were clearly discussed prior to the Sept. 28 approval by City council.
Further, after releasing our statement to Robert Wittenstein, President of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association this morning (the first call made), Melanie Williams, Co-President of Dunwoody Preservation Trust, returned a phone call to Mike Petchenik of WSB TV. Before even asking for the decision of our Board, Mr. Pechenik asked to meet with Melanie for an on-camera interview today. When asked if he was interested in the DPT’s stance prior to the interview, he stated, “Well I understand that the Light Up Dunwoody celebration has been disallowed by your group and that you have uninvited them.” In fact, we have the conversation on tape whereby Robert Wittenstein stated after hearing Melanie read the policy, “Alright, t that’s not unexpected. So thanks for letting us know. And we’ll make steps to move the tree. And we’re also, I think, going to move Light Up Dunwoody.” Melanie closed with the statement that, “I hope we can move forward with this in a congenial manner.” Odd that Mr. Petchenik could have received such a misconstrued message when there were only minutes between the two phone calls.
It would be very unfortunate for our city if the future of Light Up Dunwoody were jeopardized. This and other annual events like our organization’s Lemonade Days and Dunwoody’s annual Fourth of July Parade make our city special.
The Dunwoody Preservation Trust has been a viable and important part of this community for 20 years, longer than Dunwoody has been a city. We feel that we have made this decision with the entire community and our organization’s mission of being inclusive to the entire community in mind.