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The Constitution allows a Rhode Island city to have private religious holiday displays on its front lawn, a federal judge ruled yesterday in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The ACLU long ago decided it wanted to be Uncle Scrooge and expend its energies saying ‘bah humbug’ to public Christmas displays, but they are out of touch with the 96 percent of Americans that celebrate Christmas,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.

McCaleb said the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island “ruled consistently with the law,” noting that “time after time the courts have ruled such displays to be perfectly constitutional.”

The ACLU claimed the city of Cranston, R.I., erected religious displays along with secular displays in violation of the so-called “separation of church and state.”

But the court said the city can continue to open such forums to the public as long as it revises its policy to establish objective criteria for allowing the public to set up the holiday displays.

In his opinion, Judge William Smith wrote that nothing in the city’s public statements or in its implementation of the policy for its Christmas displays “reveals or even remotely supports an inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum,” as the lawsuit alleged.

The case centered on Cranston’s 2003 opening of its city hall front lawn to private “seasonal and holiday displays,” which resulted in various citizens making contributions, both religious and secular.

The city clearly posted disclaimers stating, “The public displays are strictly from private citizens or groups. They in no way represent an official view of the City of Cranston, nor are they endorsed by the city.”

The Alliance Defense Fund has a “Christmas Project” featuring more than 700 trained attorneys “ready to combat continuing efforts to censor Christmas.”

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