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« on: November 21, 2004, 10:10:00 AM »

Christian Holiday Displays at RI City Hall Ruled Constitutional

by Allie Martin
November 19, 2004

(AgapePress) - An attorney says one federal judge has helped Christmas come early for believers in one Rhode Island city by ruling in favor of private, Christian-themed holiday displays on public property.

The judge ruled that the city of Cranston's practice of allowing private holiday displays, including Nativity scenes and other Christian displays, on the front lawn of City Hall was allowed under the U.S. Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Cranston after the city opened the front lawn of City Hall for private seasonal and holiday displays last winter, even though the city had clearly posted disclaimers letting all know that the displays were from private citizens and groups and in no way officially endorsed by the city.

Despite the disclaimer, the ACLU claimed Cranston was violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by allowing private citizens to display Nativity scenes on the grounds of a city government building. But Tom Marcelle, the Alliance Defense Fund-affiliated attorney who represented the city in the case, says the federal court's Judge William Smith disagreed.

"The judge said in his opinion that it was perfectly constitutional to put a Nativity scene on the front lawn of City Hall," Marcelle explains. Furthermore, he adds, the judge stated "that we are a religious people in essence, and that we have traditions, both secular and religious, to celebrate the holiday, and the city did nothing wrong."

The ADF lawyer says cities and municipalities have a lot of leeway when it comes to allowing Christmas displays on government property.

"The court ruled consistently with the law," he points out. "Time after time the courts have ruled such displays to be perfectly constitutional." And that, he notes, is how Judge Smith saw it, and why his opinion states that nothing in the city's statements or actions "reveals or even remotely supports an inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum," as the ACLU lawsuit alleged.

This holiday season verdict is an important victory, and Marcelle thinks it could be significant not only for Christians in Cranston but for believers across America as well. He remarks, "I think we have an early Christmas present for the other cities -- that they need not fear the bogeymen from the ACLU, and that they have a perfect right to adorn government buildings and government lawns with holiday decorations that include religious themes."

Marcelle says the ACLU decided long ago that "it wanted to be Uncle Scrooge and expend its energies saying 'bah humbug' to public Christmas displays." However, he feels the civil liberties group is out of touch with the 96 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas.
http://news.christiansunite.com/Religion_News/religion01871.shtml
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