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NY City Sued In Federal Court Over Policy Discriminating Against Christians During Christmas Season

NY City Sued In Federal Court Over Policy Discriminating Against Christians During Christmas Season

Publication: news@thomasmore.org
Date: December 10, 2002

New York City Schools Sued In Federal Court Over Policy Discriminating Against Christians During Christmas Season

The Thomas More Law Center has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and another school official, alleging that the City's policy regarding "Holiday Displays" unlawfully discriminates against Christians. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Andrea Skoros and her two children, elementary school students in the New York City public school system.

At issue is a school policy promulgated by the Chancellor's office 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. City officials claim that the goal of this policy is "to promote understanding and respect for the diverse beliefs and customs relating to our community's observance of the winter holiday." Ms. Skoros and her children are devout Roman Catholics, and they object to this policy because it endorses and promotes the Jewish and Muslim faiths and conveys the impermissible message of disapproval of Christianity.

Last year, pursuant to this policy, several New York City public schools, including one of the schools attended by Ms. Skoros' son, displayed the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent, but not the Nativity scene. In fact, one public school principal issued a memo pursuant to the "Holiday Displays" policy encouraging teachers to bring to school "religious symbols" that represent the Islamic and Jewish religions. No mention of Christianity was made in this memo. Catholic League president William Donohue made several attempts to get school officials to change their discriminatory policy, with no success. School officials dismissed requests to display the Nativity scene and instead would only allow Christmas trees. However, the Christmas tree is a secular symbol and not the equivalent of the religious symbols allowed for Jews and Muslims.

According to Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, "The policy relegates Christians to second class citizens. Forcing schools to only allow secular symbols for Christmas while allowing religious symbols for other religions' holiday observances shows a callous indifference and hostility toward Christians during one of their holiest seasons. It is ironic that a religion enjoying the largest following in this nation is consigned by the City of New York to a least-favored status. It's a shame that we have reached a point in our Nation's history that 'respect for diverse beliefs and customs' has come to mean discrimination against Christians at Christmas time no less."

This year, New York City public schools are at it again. Pursuant to the City's policy, prominent displays of the Jewish Menorah abound, with no Christian Nativity scenes to be found. According to the lawsuit, the City's policy violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, as well as Ms. Skoros' constitutional right as a parent to direct the religious education of her children.

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