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« on: December 23, 2004, 02:53:03 AM »

Judge Orders Florida Town to Allow Public Nativity Display

by Allie Martin
December 21, 2004

(AgapePress) - A Florida woman took part last night in a public ceremony to celebrate Christmas as well as a personal religious freedom victory -- the right to display a Nativity scene in her town.

The celebration came after attorneys at the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Bay Harbor Islands for refusing to allow local resident Sandra Snowden to display a Nativity scene alongside a Jewish Menorah at the town's entrance. Earlier this month, she had asked city officials for permission to place the Christmas display on public property near the Menorah, but her request was denied.

Snowden then contacted the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which sued the city on her behalf. Ed White, an attorney with the legal firm, says there is much confusion regarding the public display of Christmas decorations. But in the case of Bay Harbor Islands, the town was obviously exercising a double standard.

For the past few years, Bay Harbor Islands has adorned lampposts lining its Main Street with Jewish religious symbols and has allowed a local synagogue to display its 14-foot Menorah on Causeway Island. But for some reason the town was denying equal treatment and equal access to a citizen who simply wanted to display a Christian symbol.

White contends that Bay Harbor Islands officials acted unlawfully. He says, "It's the same thing as if the town, or any town, had said, 'We will allow someone to stand on our public property and read from the Old Testament. However, no one is allowed to stand on that same piece of public property and read out of the New Testament.' Once the government allows one point of view to be expressed on public property, it has to allow all points of view to be expressed."

The Thomas More attorney says a federal judge agreed that the town had acted unfairly in denying permission for the Nativity display and made it clear that this discrimination against Snowden would not be tolerated. "The bottom line message," White explains, "is that towns should not discriminate against Christian viewpoints -- especially during this Christmas holiday season -- at the same time that they're allowing another religious viewpoint to be expressed on public property."

Bay Harbor Islands officials decided not to appeal the court's decision, so the Christian crèche now sits alongside the Jewish Menorah at the entrance to the Florida town. And last night, Snowden and other residents gathered publicly to commemorate the display of the Nativity scene newly placed in their midst.


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