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Church's Fourth of July Event Might Hamper Roswell Festival

By Rene Romo
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Southern Bureau
    LAS CRUCES— Patriotism and UFOs are sparking a few fireworks of their own in Roswell this Fourth of July.
    Tempers have flared over a Christian-themed Fourth of July event, sponsored by a Roswell church, scheduled at the same time as events for the city's 12th annual UFO festival.
    The famous UFO festival is sponsored by the International UFO Museum and Research Center and runs from Thursday through Sunday. It commemorates the purported-but-never-proven July 4, 1947, crash of an alien saucer in the area.
    Events in the UFO festival include a "Lights in the Night" parade at 9 p.m. Saturday, topped off with a mock UFO appearance, courtesy of a jet flyover from Holloman Air Force Base.
    The festival, said Julie Shuster, the UFO museum's executive director, is one of the biggest annual events the city has and is a major tourist draw.
    But, this year, the festival has some Saturday night competition— a 9:15 p.m. fireworks show, sponsored by the local Church on the Move.
    The church fireworks display will be the culmination of a daylong patriotic celebration at Cielo Grande Park called "One Nation Under God."
    "My whole thing is why, in the middle of the UFO festival, do you have something else?" Shuster asked Monday.
    Shuster said she was taken aback last week when she learned for the first time about the scope of the Church on the Move event during a joint radio station appearance with the non-denominational church's pastor, Troy Smothermon.
    Shuster said she asked Smothermon after the radio show why he was "competing" with the UFO festival.
    According to Shuster, Smothermon replied, "Because we don't believe in UFOs" and said the scheduling conflict was "on purpose."
    Smothermon said he does not recall making that exact statement. However, referring to the Fourth of July, he said he wanted to emphasize the "true meaning of this holiday."
    "Our event is to honor God and veterans," Smothermon said in a telephone interview Monday. "That's our goal. We don't desire to hurt other people, that's not our heart. But we do want to give people an alternative."
    Over the years, various Christian groups in Roswell have promoted views of UFOs and extraterrestrials from a Christian perspective.
    After her exchange with Smothermon, an irate Shuster paid a visit to Roswell Mayor Sam LaGrone. At one point, Shuster acknowledged, she asked, in a general way, if a fireworks permit could be withdrawn after it was granted.
    LaGrone, who met with Smothermon last Thursday, told the Journal he did not believe the two events will clash. "Both events can co-exist," LaGrone said. "The city is certainly going to support both events."
    Smothermon said that, while he does not believe in UFOs, he is not trying to harm the UFO festival. He said he simply wants to hold a Christian-themed event with a patriotic focus.
    "I think two totally different groups of people will attend the events," he said.
    Shuster said Monday evening the Church on the Move fireworks show has already led UFO festival organizers, due to safety concerns, to cancel plans for civilian pilots to fly over Roswell on Saturday night in a pretend search for a UFO.
    The military jet will fly at a 10,000 feet later and will not be affected by the fireworks show, Shuster said.