The Village of Briarcliff Manor has decided to take down a holiday display in a public park — a Christmas tree and a menorah — rather than let a village resident donate a creche.
Many will see the village as a big-time grinch, opposed to religious expression.
Some will see the village’s decision as wise — since there’s no way to satisfy everyone when it comes to which religious symbols should be allowed.
And some won’t care, thinking it’s a big fuss over nothing.
Whatever you believe, there’s no doubt that public officials are putting a lot of time and energy into trying to decide what religious symbols they can display. I had an “article”:http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061217/NEWS01/612170352/1018/NEWS02 in Sunday’s Journal News/LoHud.com about how public officials are dealing with requests for Nativity scenes to be included in their displays.
Here’s the pattern that’s repeating itself in community after community: Municipal officials think they have “balance” with a Christmas tree and a menorah (and maybe some other symbols). But Christian residents say that the tree is a cultural symbol. So they want a creche or Nativity scene to provide religious balance to the menorah.
But municipal officials are terribly confused about whether a creche is too religious. This is partly because the existing federal case law on this question is terribly confusing.
What happened in Briarcliff Manor? The village traditionally decorated a Christmas tree in a public park. Last year, the village purchased a menorah to provide balance. But a village resident, seeing the menorah, wanted to donate a creche to provide — you guessed it — balance.
The village said “Thanks, but no thanks. We’re satisfied with the balance we have.”
The resident sued. The resident won. A federal judge told the village, in effect, put up the creche or take down your holiday display. (The decision was released late Friday and we didn’t find out until Saturday, causing a late re-write to the beginning of my article).
The village opted to take down its holiday display on Saturday. Now there are no symbols to balance.
The village left a sign saying this: “The Village erected a Menorah and Christmas tree display in a spirit of inclusion. In response to a federal court order the entire display has been removed. We disagree with the court.”
No one really wins in a case like this. But the battles will continue, community by community.
The village, incidentally, plans to appeal the judge’s decision.