Voters Asked to Approve City-Sponsored Nativity Scene

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - When voters in Berkley, Mich., go to the polls on Nov. 7, they'll be asked to approve a charter amendment requiring the city to display a Nativity scene in its holiday display.

Last winter, the Berkley City Council in Michigan voted to remove a decades-old Nativity display from city property after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue.

In a 6-1 vote, the council donated its manger scene to the Berkley Clergy Association for display on church property.

But the decision upset many residents of the Detroit suburb, who launched a grassroots petition drive to overrule the city council's vote.

The petition drive gathered enough signatures to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"Christmas is a national holiday. And we're not going to let ACLU threats dictate how we publicly celebrate it," said Georgia Halloran, a spokeswoman for the grassroots group.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provided legal assistance to Halloran's group.

"Despite all of their public rationalizations of why the Nativity should be removed from city property, it is clear the city council acted out of fear of an ACLU lawsuit," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center.

He said Berkley citizens are working within the political system to correct the council's "wrong" decision.

A Web site urging voters to approve the Berkley charter amendment says the people of Berkley should decide what is right for their community -- rather than an outside group like the ACLU.

"Groups like the ACLU and their supporters enjoy using scare tactics to confuse voters and draw attention away from the fact that a nativity scene is indeed legal," the "Vote Yes" Web site says.

Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals have upheld the constitutionality of holiday displays that include Nativity scenes.

In addition to the Nativity scene, Berkley's holiday display also included a Star of David, Christmas trees, a Santa Claus figure, a Santa's Mailbox, and a "Seasons Greetings" sign -- and the inclusion of other secular and religious symbols makes the display legal, the Law Center said.

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