Nativity Scenes Cause Uproar; Considered Too 'Religious' for Public Displays

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Nativity Scenes Cause Uproar; Considered Too 'Religious' for Public Displays


Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …

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