In Connecticut, a library is refusing to display paintings of Jesus' nativity and resurrection as part of its rotating display of local art. In Queens, New York, a woman is suing a school because it would not allow her child's nativity scene to be part of its holiday display, though it allowed a menorah and an Islamic crescent. The Indiana University School of Law caused a ruckus when it removed a Christmas tree and replaced it with a generic winter scene. Outside Detroit, the city of Troy has decided to forbid private citizens from placing Christmas displays on city property. Around the United States, it's the annual "December dilemma": how do you celebrate a religious holiday without being sued?

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Calvary Chapel wanted to participate in a two-mile long Holiday Fantasy of Lights and submitted a design that read, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." When the county rejected it, Calvary sued. John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, who represented the church, said, "We argued that the festival had all these other displays, and they were discriminating against the Christian symbol. Just a couple years ago in a case that we argued and won, the court said that's illegal. Once you open a forum, you cannot have religious viewpoint discrimination." In late November, a judge ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel saying the county could not prohibit Calvary Chapel's message if it allowed others.

The plastic reindeer test

Though similar instances still abound, Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said there is little dispute over the law. "If the government is involved in putting up a religious display, the courts are likely to see that as unconstitutional," Haynes said. ...

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December 2003

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