- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

A Queens family is suing New York City for discriminating against Christians with its public schools holiday display policy that bans Nativity scenes while allowing other religions' symbols.
The family, supported by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and represented by the Thomas More Law Center, filed the lawsuit in Brooklyn's U.S. District Court on Monday. They are seeking an injunction against the policy.
According to a memorandum distributed by the schools' general counsel to the chancellor last year, the policy permits secular holiday decorations, including "Christmas trees, menorahs and the star and crescent." The memorandum also stated if one symbol is displayed, then symbols of other "beliefs or customs" should be displayed as well.
Louis Giovino, director of communications for the Catholic League, said he does not know why a menorah is considered a secular symbol if a Nativity scene is not.
"Menorahs are prominent religious symbols in Jewish temples," Mr. Giovino said. "But Nativity scenes are not prominent in Christian churches, they are just used as decorations. I hope this case sets a precedent and that Christians are not going to settle with a Christmas tree as their symbol."
The plaintiff is Andrea Skoros of College Point, Queens, who is suing on behalf of her sons, Christos and Nicholas Tine. While Christos was a first-grader and Nicholas was a third-grader last year at Public School 165, known as the Edith K. Bergtraum School, the school displayed a menorah and a star and crescent, but no Nativity scene. This year, Christos' new school, Public School 184, prominently displays three menorahs on a table while a 3-foot Christmas tree sits on the floor.
Robert Muise, Ms. Skoros' associate counsel, said his client is not suing for money.
"It's about a principle," Mr. Muise said. "Ms. Skoros hopes that [New York City schools] decide to change their policy on their own."
The suit also names the school's chancellor, Joel I. Klein, and principal, Sonya Lupion.
Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Education, told the Associated Press that the policy does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court ruled in similar cases, such as Lynch vs. Donnelly and Allegheny County vs. Greater Pittsburgh American Civil Liberties Union, that while a religious symbol might individually be unconstitutional, its inclusion with other secular decorations is not an endorsement of a particular religion to the exclusion of others.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled that a Nativity scene at the Allegheny County, Pa., Courthouse was unconstitutional because it lacked other secular symbols of the Christmas season. But it said a menorah on the steps of City Hall was acceptable because it was accompanied by a Christmas tree.

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