- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

As in every holiday season, efforts have been made this year to take Christ out of Christmas in schools and at other public events.

A Nativity scene was removed from a showcase in Simmons Elementary School in Horsham, Pa.

“The administration removed it because it was too overt in its religious significance,” said a spokeswoman for the Hatboro-Horsham School District.

District Superintendent William Lessa said he “always thought a Nativity scene is a religious symbol so significant that it was not appropriate in the context of public education.”

But Mr. Lessa said he is willing to re-examine that question in the wake of parental complaints and publicity that followed his decision to remove the Nativity scene. He said plenty of other symbols can be found in Simmons Elementary, including Christmas trees, a menorah and a symbol of Kwanzaa.

“Christmas has become more secular than ever in the schools,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a public-interest law firm that represents people in cases involving religious freedom.

“Schools are really tightening down … we’re so besieged by the whole secular aspect [of Christmas] that people are getting the idea it’s hopeless to complain” when religious aspects are removed, Mr. Whitehead said.

He expressed concern about the Simmons Elementary action but said Rutherford would not have standing to bring litigation.

In another case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island plans to go to court today to try to force removal of a Nativity scene from the Cranston City Hall lawn. Mayor Stephen Lassey invited residents to adorn the lawn with their own holiday decorations.

Residents responded by installing items such as an inflatable Santa and snowmen, a menorah, a 4-foot-tall angel with lights and 15 plastic pink flamingos wearing Santa hats.

“There was not a peep until a Jewish man decided to put up a Nativity scene in honor of his deceased Christian wife. Then, the ACLU announced it was getting involved,” said mayoral spokeswoman Robin Schutt.

In another case, a Connecticut artist who had been barred by a public library from including a painting of a Nativity scene from an Advent display of her works has been given a reprieve.

The Nativity scene and four paintings of Jesus as an adult by artist Mary Morley were to have been excluded from her 17-piece art exhibit at the Meriden Public Library in Meriden, Conn., said Edmond M. Diorio, an affiliate attorney for Rutherford in Watertown, Conn.

“For the past year, the Meriden Public Library has been letting local artists display their works in monthlong exhibits. But Miss Morley was the first artist where the library decided to pick and choose which works it would allow,” Mr. Diorio said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“This had every appearance of religious discrimination,” he added.

In a letter to the city’s Department of Law, Mr. Diorio said library director Marcia Trotta let Miss Morley show paintings of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Moses, David and Goliath, and some angels, but not Jesus.

At a meeting this week, the library’s board of trustees unanimously agreed to accept the full collection.

Meriden City Attorney Lawrence Kendzior yesterday insisted the library director “acted responsibly.”

Mr. Kendzior sad the Meriden library director thought the paintings she wanted left out “would create problems with the establishment clause of the Constitution.”

Meanwhile, things are peaceful in Cedar County, Iowa, where a Nativity scene stands on the courthouse lawn. Nearby is a sign saying that the display is “neither sponsored or endorsed” by the county. The lawn has been formally designated as a “public forum.”

“As far as I know, this policy satisfies the constitutional concerns of the [Iowa Civil Liberties Union] and others,” said Stephen Benz, assistant county attorney.

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