NEW YORK – In an attempt to overturn a court ruling that bans Nativity scenes at public schools during the Christmas season, New York City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced a resolution Sunday at City Hall.
The resolution calls for the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to amend their holiday display policy for public elementary and secondary schools to include a nativity scene or crèche.
In his proposal, presented at the press conference Sunday, Avella argued that the prohibition of the holiday display is discriminatory, and that it is part of the heritage of a majority of school children around the nation.
Schools currently allow two symbols, the menorah for Judaism and the Islamic Star and Crescent for Islam, which the councilman says is a double-standard.
“My resolution is purely about inclusion,” Avella said. “The menorah and star and crescent are religious symbols. By adding a nativity scene/crèche to the holiday display, Christianity will receive equal representation with other religious faiths during the holiday season.”
The Christian Post reports that Avella’s resolution is supported by many others, including Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Christian legal group Thomas More Law Center.
“This case illustrates the court supported double-standard used by public schools across the country to outlaw Christian expressions while permitting and even encouraging expressions of every other religion,” Thompson wrote in a statement. “I applaud Councilman Avella’s endeavor to correct this obvious injustice to the Christian parents and their children that he represents. Authentic tolerance and pluralism includes respect for Christians.”
In February, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to ban Nativity scenes from public schools, citing that it was constitutional. The school administration has argued that they will only allow secular symbols during the holiday season, according to the Christian Post story.
“We only allow secular symbols, and that decision has been upheld by the courts,” said Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman, in the New York Sun.
Christian activists are challenging the ruling, however, in that the interpretation mischaracterizes the Jewish and Islam symbols as being secular and only giving the Christmas tree as a secular symbol for Christmas.
Several groups have argued that a crèche, also known as a manger, should also be among the list of applicable displays, especially since about one million students in the New York public school system are affected.
The Thomas More Law Center originally started the litigation in February on behalf of Andrea Skoros and her two religious minor children who attend New York City schools. This is only after Catholic League president William Donohue had tried to convince school officials on multiple occasions to allow the displays.
“Our nation has a strong Christian heritage that is reflected in our traditions,” explained Robert Muise, the attorney who originally litigated the case, in a statement. “One such tradition is displaying a crèche during the Christmas season. New York City’s current Nativity ban exhibits a hostility toward religion that is contrary to our history and our Constitution.”
As reported in the Chritian Post, the issue is one of several around the country in relation to religious symbols at public schools. In April, a Rhode Island school administration renamed the Easter Bunny “Peter Rabbit,” citing that the other form was too religious. The incident spurred an “Easter Bunny Act” that would bar name changes of popular religious and secular symbols.
In Texas this past season, children were not allowed to write “Merry Christmas” in letters to soldiers to avoid religious content. The incident prompted a Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act which was recently signed into law by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It will allow Texas schoolchildren to express their Christian faith in public schools.