When Berkley, Mich., residents to go the polls next week it’s thought to be the first time that voters will have decided the fate of a Nativity display in a municipal setting, according to campaign organizers. And at least three former mayors are endorsing the restoration of the display that was pulled down last year after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit.

The organizing committee, Berkley Vote Yes, is boasting of support from former Berkley Mayors Maybelle Fraser (1995-1997), John Cassise (1987-1991), and Kenneth Roth (1969-1974). Supporters also confirm hundreds of families have put signs of support in front of their houses and about $5,000 has been donated for the effort.

In announcing the 2007 Nativity Project, which encourages the display nationwide of the scene from the biblical Christmas story, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said religious freedoms have eroded in the United States.

“This is especially true during the Christmas season where there is an open hostility toward public expressions of faith. We must constantly remind our public officials that the Constitution promises freedom ‘of’ religion not freedom ‘from’ religion,” he said.

The experts at the Thomas More Law Center have been advising the Berkley campaign, which was launched after the city council last winter gave in to threats from the ACLU, and ordered the Nativity removed.

Residents, however, were upset enough to assemble behind resident Georgia Halloran as the “Berkley Citizens Vote YES to Christmas Holiday Display” organization. They mounted a successful petition drive to bring the issue to the ballot.

Now the campaign to encourage voter approval of the plan is running in earnest, with support come from as far away as Edgewater, Colo.

From there, a Jewish refugee-immigrant who was carried out of Nazi Austria by his parents submitted a donation and some words of encouragement.

“I thought you might want to know that I am Jewish, a refugee-immigrant carried out from Nazi Austria by my parents to this great and glorious nation, and that I want to help honor and protect my Christian brethren,” the donor wrote Nativity supporters. “I wish that I could give more, but my pension is limited.”

This donor, Halloran said, “had firsthand experience with oppression against people of the Christian and Jewish faiths, and we are moved and inspired by his message of tolerance and support. It inspires us to stand against the ACLU’s Grinch-like demand that our community Nativity scene and the Star of David both be removed from the traditional holiday display at city hall.”

Former Mayor Fraser, in a letter prepared to city residents, said such traditions should be preserved.

“Of course, it’s fair to ask … why in the world does Berkley have to go to all the trouble of having a ballot measure and running a campaign just so we can keep our Nativity scene at city hall where it’s been for generations?” she wrote. “Especially when neighboring communities such as Birmingham, Clawson, Madison Heights, Troy, Southfield, and Warren display Nativity scenes at their city halls each Christmas as they always have. Some of these communities include religious symbols to celebrate Hanukah during this season as well.”

Simply because of the ACLU, she said.

“Putting the issue on the ballot lets the people who live here in Berkley decide – not ACLU lawyers – but rather, We The People, you and I, and our families,” she said.

The committee also is preparing a campaign finance report that shows of the estimated $5,000 in donations, 95 percent came from Berkley and its neighboring communities.

“Nearly a thousand of us who actually live in Berkley signed the petition that put keeping our Nativity scene on the ballot, and now over a hundred Berkley residents have felt strongly enough about voting ‘yes’ to contribute financially,” Halloran said. “It’s clear that citizens of Berkley feel strongly about
voting ‘yes’ to keep our Nativity where it’s traditionally been and saying that those of us who actually live here get to decide, not ACLU Grinches from Detroit.”

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