Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Federal Judge: Nativity Must Be Allowed In Bay Harbor Islands, Florida

An email update:

***Tune in tonight to the O'Reilly Factor on the FOX News Channel to catch exclusive coverage of this victory including commentary from Thomas More Law Center attorney Edward White! The O'Reilly Factor airs at 8 PM and 11 PM (Eastern).***

ANN ARBOR, MI – Federal Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled today that the Town of Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, must allow the display of the Christian Nativity.

The Thomas More Law Center had filed a federal lawsuit against Town officials earlier this month after resident Sandra Snowden was denied permission to display a Nativity for the second consecutive year. Today’s ruling was a result of the Law Center’s motion asking the court to immediately order the Town to allow Snowden to display a Nativity scene on public property.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center commented on the ruling, “We are pleased with Judge Altonaga’s quick response to our request that Sandra be allowed to display a Nativity scene this Christmas. This is a great example of what can happen when Christians stand up for their right to celebrate Christmas in public.”

In her ruling on Wednesday, Judge Altonaga’s explained that Snowden had shown a substantial likelihood of success on her free speech and equal protection claims and that Snowden may display her Nativity scene this Christmas season on Causeway Island in the Town of Bay Harbor Islands where the Town has allowed a local synagogue’s Menorah to be displayed each holiday season since December 2001.

Judge Altonaga also ruled that Snowden had shown a substantial likelihood of success that the Town had violated the establishment clause in 2001 through 2003 by displaying only Jewish religious symbols, to the exclusion of Christian symbols, during the December holiday seasons.

The lawsuit filed December 2, 2004, claims that for the past several years during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Town of Bay Harbor Islands has adorned the lampposts lining its main street with Jewish religious symbols of Menorahs and Stars of David and has allowed a Jewish synagogue to display its fourteen-foot Menorah on Causeway Island, the most prominent public location at the entrance of Town. Yet, every request by Sandra Snowden, a Christian resident, to display Nativity scenes purchased with her own money in a similar manner during the Christmas season, had been denied by Town officials.

Law Center attorneys filed a similar lawsuit last year against the Town of Palm Beach, Florida, for its refusal to respond to repeated requests to display a Nativity alongside town sanctioned Menorahs. This past May, a federal district court judge acknowledged the importance of recognizing religious holidays and ordered Palm Beach to treat all religious symbols equally.

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