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In a federal-court consent judgment, the town of Palm Beach, Fla., paid $50,000 in attorney fees and apologized for not allowing the display of Christian nativity scenes while permitting Jewish menorahs.
The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm, brought the suit on behalf of Maureen Donnell and Fern deNarvaez.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the suit claimed for two years the city refused to review requests to have a nativity scene placed alongside menorahs, a practice Thomas More claims demonstrates hostility toward Christians. The suit also alleged Palm Beach deprived the plaintiffs of their right to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Constitution.
Plaintiff Maureen Donnell made four requests in October and November for the town to allow a privately financed display of a Chistmas nativity scene along with the menorahs. According to the law center, she received no response from city officials.
“We won everything that we wanted,” Donnell said. “All religions will be treated equally. That’s all we were fighting for. Now the Town Council must address every situation that comes up, which they did not do with us.”
DeNarvaez added, “I’m so glad we were able to come to an equitable agreement through the efforts of the Thomas More Law Center.”
The consent judgment signed by a federal district court judge in late May acknowledged the importance of recognizing religious holidays and provided that, “Should the Town erect or allow the display of religious symbols on public property … all religious symbols will be given equal treatment.”
The court also ordered Palm Beach to enact and make public within 90 days written procedures for reviewing citizen requests for religious displays on public property. In addition, the town was ordered to pay $1 to each woman as nominal damages for its negligence in responding to the women’s requests.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said the lawsuit would have never occurred had the town displayed common courtesy toward two of its residents.
“Clearly, Christians of Palm Beach were being denied the right to express their religious message in a public forum that was open to other religious faiths,” he said.
Thomas More filed a similar lawsuit in 2002 against the New York City public-school system, which has a written policy permitting students to display the Jewish menorah and the Islamic star and crescent, but prohibiting students from displaying nativity scenes. The case is on appeal in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.