New York, NY—U.S. District Court Judge Charles Sifton ruled against the plaintiffs in the discrimination suit challenging the New York City Department of Education’s policy regarding “Holiday Displays.” The policy allowed the Jewish menorah and Islamic star and crescent while banning the Christian symbol, the nativity scene. The Catholic League arranged for the Thomas More Law Center to file the suit in December 2002 on behalf of a Queens, New York mother and her two children.
Sifton ruled that the policy is not unconstitutional and does not discriminate against Christians. In his decision, he wrote that the policy is secular in intent—the menorah and the star and crescent have a secular dimension, while the nativity scene is “purely religious.” Elsewhere, he wrote that the holiday displays “must be reviewed as perceived by the children, Christian children in particular, but not one hyper-sensitive Catholic child.” The Catholic League said the ruling smacked of anti-Catholic bias.
The Catholic League broke a news story on the hiring of Mara Vanderslice by the Kerry campaign as its new Director of Religion Outreach. Her resume was startling: she was an extreme radical who belonged to Marxist clubs in college; after college she spoke at rallies organized by anti-Catholic groups; she took to the streets of Seattle in a protest against the World Trade Organization; and she was arrested for trying to shut down Washington, D.C. and the World Bank. Four days after we exposed her in a news release, the Kerry camp put the muzzle on her, forbidding her to speak to the media.
Genesee County, MI—The ACLU filed a suit on behalf of appellant Joseph Hanas. Hanas, a Catholic, alleged that he was coerced into practicing Pentecostalism at the Inner City Christian Outreach (ICCO) rehabilitation center. The counselors and pastor running it called Catholicism “witchcraft,” confiscated Hanas’ rosary and Bible, prevented a priest and deacon from visiting him, and forced him to attend Pentecostal Bible studies and services. There was no actual drug treatment activity in the program, and successful completion of the program required (among other things) proclaiming oneself “saved.”
When Hanas requested a transfer out of ICCO into a secular program, Genesee County Judge Robert M. Ransom removed him from deferred sentencing, accepted his guilty plea, convicted and sentenced him. Had he remained in the deferred sentencing program, no conviction would have appeared on his record. The ACLU’s brief argued that the choice facing Hanas constituted a violation of the Michigan and federal Free Exercise Clauses: he could remain at ICCO, and be coerced into practicing Pentecostalism and discouraged from practicing Catholicism, or he could face criminal sanctions.
Washington, DC—Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe announced the appointment of Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson as the first-ever Senior Advisor for Religious Outreach to the DNC. On Monday, August 2, the Catholic League issued a press release noting she signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of atheist Michael Newdow in his attempt to get the words “under God” stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. Two more news releases on Peterson were issued on August 3 and 4. She then resigned her position on August 4, saying she couldn’t take the pressure any more. She was not replaced and the DNC let the position expire.
New York, NY—In New York magazine, Rep. Charles Rangel, Democratic congressman for Harlem, reacted to Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput’s statement that voting for an explicitly pro-abortion candidate was “cooperating in evil.” Rangel said, “I don’t know if priests go to confession. I just wonder whether priests confess to each other what they’re doing to our children. They ought to put a district attorney in some of these confessional boxes.”
La Grange, KY—Town officials decided not to display a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. The scene had been displayed for 14 years. The reason given was that they feared a lawsuit from the ACLU.
Demarest, NJ—After 150 angry residents arrived at a borough council meeting, council members voted unanimously to scrap a planned vote to remove religious symbols from the borough’s village green.
Somerville, MA—Mayor Joseph Curtatone publicly expressed regret for calling Somerville’s “holiday party” a Christmas Party. “I apologize for the mistake,” Curtatone said, “and to anyone who was offended by it.”
Chapel Hill, NC—The town sponsored “a series of holiday events,” including a “Holiday Parade” and “a Community Sing and Tree Lighting.” But no mention was made of what the holiday actually was.
Tallahassee, FL—State Democratic legislators reportedly balked at Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Daniel Webster’s plans to recommend repeal of the state constitution’s 1885 anti-Catholic-motivated “Blaine Amendment,” which prevents public monies from helping religious schools and other institutions.
Denver, CO—After hundreds of angry phone calls, Mayor John Hickenlooper reversed a plan to replace the “Merry Christmas” sign outside City Hall with one that said “Happy Holidays.” He said, “Hickenlooper might have two O’s, but I am not Scrooge.” The city has also maintained a manger scene on the City Hall steps since the early 1940s, despite protests in recent years from militant atheist organizations.
The ad below appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times on September 20.
Glendale, OH—Officials took part in a Holiday Walk on the Village Square, but no one explained what holiday was being celebrated.
December 3 & 4
Denver, CO—The city’s annual Parade of Lights, sponsored chiefly by NBC affiliate KUSA-TV, banned the words “Merry Christmas” from all floats, as well as all Christmas songs. Parade spokesman Michael Krikorian said the decision to discriminate against Christians was made “out of respect for other religions in the region.” Meanwhile, the parade honored homosexual and lesbian American Indians as “Holy People.”
Franklin, MI—The village changed the name of its annual “Holly Day” to “the Franklin Winter Festival.” Prominent store owner Les Gorback, who pushed for the new name, said, “Holly Day had the connotation it was strictly a Christmas holiday festival.” According to Gorback, “We wanted to try to make it more inclusive, so we changed the name.”
Fontana, CA—Santa Claus—who is not associated with anything other than Christmas—inexplicably appeared at the annual Festival of Winter’s parade through Miller Park.
Wellesley, MA—When the town reversed policy and agreed to place a menorah in front of the town hall, town counsel Albert Robinson said it would be a giant legal step to place a crèche there, too.
New York, NY—Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that the City Hall Christmas Tree was really a “holiday tree.”
Sunny Isles Beach, FL—The city’s fourth annual holiday park lighting ceremony featured Santa Claus, but no Christmas Trees, menorahs, crèches, or any other religious symbols. According to Susan Simpson, director of the Sunny Isles Beach Cultural and Human Services Department, excluding Christmas Trees and menorahs made the event inclusive.
New York, NY—As city workers were tearing down Christmas lights that residents of a lower East Side housing project had been putting up annually for a decade, the New York City Housing Authority reversed a directive from the previous day demanding that “All lights must be removed at once.”
Fair Lawn, NJ—Municipal officials called the Christmas Tree outside Borough Hall a “holiday tree” and, according to the Bergen Record, refused to allow a menorah there, too, because then they might have to allow other religious symbols.
Bay Harbor Islands, FL—With the assistance of the Thomas More Law center, Sondra Snowdon successfully sued the town of Bay Harbor Islands, near Miami, reversing its discriminatory practice of banning the placement of a crèche in the town’s main square, while permitting the display of menorahs. The Star of David was also hung on lampposts throughout the town.
Snowdon supplied the crèche herself the following week at her own expense, dedicating it to the memory of her mother. Amidst honking cars and Christmas carolers, Father Peter Lickman of St. Basil Catholic Church blessed the manger scene in a brief ceremony. Snowden, however, told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, “there’s still discrimination. I have walked down the street and been spit on. I have threatening phone calls that come into me.”
Hobbs, NM—After a written request from the Catholic League, Lea County Correctional Facility stated that it would make an exception to the prison’s restriction on showing R-rated films to inmates and allow a screening of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” during Christmastime. A Catholic inmate had asked for the League’s assistance.
Pasco County, FL—County officials banned Christmas trees from public buildings after the county attorney determined that they were religious symbols. The American Center for Law and Justice called the action “the most extreme example of censorship imaginable.”
Stafford Township, NJ—After initially balking at erecting a crèche in the municipal courtyard, the mayor agreed to accept a lighted nativity scene from a Catholic church; it became the centerpiece of the town’s holiday display representing various faiths.
Pasco County, FL—After a deluge of angry phone calls and e-mails, plus a threatened lawsuit, officials reversed a Christmas Tree ban that had caused the removal of dozens of trees in county buildings; many of the trees were decorated by local schoolchildren.
Layton, UT—Following a 20-year tradition, Layton banned a crèche while allowing a paganistic “Winter Zoo.” It featured dinosaurs, monkeys, bears and dozens of other lighted animals.