Suit Claims NYC Schools Discriminate Against Christians

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - During this holiday season, America's largest public school system is allowing the Menorah, a symbol of the Jewish faith; and the Star and Crescent, a symbol of Islam, to be displayed in its buildings. Nowhere in the New York City school buildings, however, will you find a Nativity scene, symbolic of the Christian faith.

When Andrea Skoros, a mother of two public school students from Queens, complained to school officials, she says she was rebuffed. As a result, both the Catholic League and the Thomas More Law Center have sued on Skoros' behalf, alleging that the actions of the New York City Department of Education amounted to religious discrimination.

The lawsuit is centered on a school policy set forth by the chancellor of New York City schools that prohibits the display of Nativity scenes in the city's schools during the Christmas season, but expressly permits and encourages these schools to display during certain religious holidays and seasonal observances the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent.

"That policy expressly allows the display of secular holiday symbol decorations such as Christmas trees, Menorahs and the Star and Crescent," according to William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League.

"It is outrageous that New York City public school officials allow some religious symbols in the schools every December while banning others. Catholics are sick and tired of being discriminated against by bureaucrats who tell us we should be satisfied with a Christmas tree in the schools," Donohue added.

Skoros' two elementary school children attend the Edith Bergtraum School and P.S. 184, both located in Queens, New York. At P.S. 184, attended by her youngest son, there are three Menorahs and a three-foot tall Christmas tree inside, near the building's entrance, according to the lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in past rulings, has labeled the Christmas tree a secular symbol and the Jewish Menorah a religious symbol, according to Richard Thompson, executive director and chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center.

So, if New York City public school officials allow Menorahs to be displayed in their buildings, they should allow a Christian equivalent, Thompson argues.

"When you disallow the Nativity Scene by calling it religious and allow other symbols categorized as religious, then you are underlying the fact [that] it becomes a less favorable religion. Legally, this is an issue of parity," stated Thompson.

The Thomas More Law Center says it has in evidence a memo sent to teachers in the New York City public schools approving of the display of symbols related to the African-American cultural holiday of Kwanzaa. The Menorah and the Star and Crescent were also listed as acceptable, according to the memo, but no symbols of Christianity were mentioned.

"They (New York City Department of Education) say they are following the Constitution. We disagree," added Thompson.

Calls to the office of the New York City school chancellor and to the principal of P.S. 184 were not returned.

In legal papers filed by the Thomas More Law Center, the goal of the suit is not to erase religion from the public schools, but to ensure all religions, including Christianity, are represented equally.

"We're looking for a declaration that the current policy is unconstitutional, and we request in our suit that an injunction is enforced against this policy," said Thompson.

"All we have done is attacked a policy we feel is discriminatory," he added.