On December 7, menorahs were removed from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach. On December 10, they were restored. The initial complaints were made by those who contended that the menorah is a religious symbol and should therefore not be displayed on government property. The second round of complaints came from the Jewish War Veterans. Even though they won, some were still upset because they said the display of menorahs should not have to be conditioned upon their placement next to a Christmas tree.
Bruce Rogow, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, was quoted in the local newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, saying that the problem could be resolved by banning all holiday displays. He also said the courts have determined that the Christmas tree and menorah have been transformed into secular symbols.
In reference to the 1989 Allegheny decision, County of Allegheny v. ACLU, Rogow added that the U.S. Supreme Court held that a nativity scene had to be removed because it was placed on the steps of the Allegheny County Courthouse and therefore had the appearance of government endorsement; he added that the high court ruled that placing a menorah next to a Christmas tree resolved the issue by representing both holidays with secular displays.
The Catholic League pointed out to the press that this account was so full of errors that it “couldn’t be outdone by Saturday Night Live.” First of all, the high court ruled in the Allegheny decision that the menorah is a religious symbol. The reason they allowed it to stay on government property was because it was placed next to a secular symbol, the Christmas tree. The nativity scene had to go because it was not placed next to secular symbols.
Accordingly, we argued that “if the VA Hospital is going to allow menorahs, it should also allow nativity scenes.” We called upon the Catholic War Veterans in that area to press the case.
What is overlooked with regularity is that there are two ways the government can be neutral: by being intolerant and banning all religious symbols or by being tolerant and allowing all of them. Unlike professor Rogow and other civil libertarians, the Catholic League prefers the latter option. And yet they have the nerve to call us the intolerant ones.
We urge you to write a letter of protest to Edward Seiler, Director, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 7305 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach, Florida, 33410.