Two prominent legal cases battling policies that outlaw public display of the Christian Nativity while allowing symbols of other religions have reached a critical stage.
In New York City, arguments will be presented Monday in a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s display of the Jewish Menorah during Hanukkah and the Islamic star and crescent during Ramadan in more than 1,200 public schools while barring Nativity scenes during Christmas.
In Florida, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga is expected to rule early next week on a request for a temporary restraining order that would require the town of Bay Harbor Islands to allow a Christian resident to display the Nativity alongside existing Jewish Menorahs.
Both cases are being argued by attorneys with the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center.
“Christmas is under siege throughout our nation, and the cases in New York and Bay Harbor Islands demonstrate the kind of hostility and double standard being used by officials to deny Christians the right to publicly celebrate one of their holiest seasons,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center.
The New York suit against the city’s Department of Education is in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Sifton ruled the city’s discriminatory policy was permissible because it was an accommodation of “multiculturalism” and “an attempt to diversify the season and provide non-Christian holidays with parity.”
In Miami, Law Center attorney Edward White argued in a hearing this week that Bay Harbor Islands is discriminating against Christians by violating the free speech rights of resident Sandra Snowden, who had been denied the right to display her private Nativity in a public forum.
“All I’m asking for is inclusiveness,” Snowdon told the St. Petersburg Times one year ago. “I do not know why a baby Jesus in a manger would be so offensive to this town.”
Defending the policy, town attorneys argue the Menorah can be displayed because it is a secular symbol and not a religious one, unlike the Nativity.
Bay Harbor Islands attorney Craig B. Sherman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he believes the town will prevail.
“All the town’s holiday decorations are in compliance with applicable law,” he insisted.
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