Here in Michigan in the Detroit suburb of Berkley there’s been an ongoing attempt to subvert the Wall of Separation because some True Believers™ are upset that the City Council did the right thing in moving the city’s nativity display off of public property and onto private church property to avoid a lawsuit from the ACLU. It seems Berkley has had a nativity scene on display for years, but without any additional holiday decorations such as a Santa Claus or Jewish menorah which the courts have ruled are necessary to keep such a display Constitutional. The City Council had two choices: Water down the scene with additional non-Christian decorations or give the nativity scene to the downtown churches to display solo. They made the better of the two choices in my mind in part because it allows the display to be downtown without being water down and in part because I’ve always thought the argument that including other decorations was a pretty fucking weak attempt to allow something that shouldn’t be allowed. The Detroit News had an article on the dispute back on the 15th which read in part:
Leading the charge for a civic display in Berkley is Georgia Halloran, a 37-year resident angered by last year’s decision by the Berkley City Council to remove the figures from City Hall property and turn them over to the Berkley Clergy Association to display at local churches around the town of 15,500 residents.
Halloran and other residents collected 952 signatures to force the question to a vote on Nov. 6. She sees passage of the initiative—which would amend the city’s charter—as Berkley’s chance to stand up to the American Civil Liberties Union, which told the city the display violated the law.
“I’m tired of these organizations coming into a small-town community and threatening us with lawsuits and the city rolling over,” Halloran said. “We are celebrating a national holiday. We are not promoting a religion. The government isn’t supposed to be hostile toward religion.”
So the True Believers™ got their panties all in a twist and have managed to get a petition on the November 6th ballot to force the city to reinstate the nativity in front of city hall. They’ve set up a website full of misleading information to try and persuade folks to vote for what is clearly an Establishment Clause violation that’ll just end up in an expensive lawsuit with the ACLU that they’ll probably lose which is just stupid when they could avoid the whole fiasco with what is a very reasonable compromise.
Fortunately there’s a group of folks out there actively campaigning against the charter amendment and they too have a website: Citizens for Religious Freedom and they appear to have a fair amount of support of their own. Additional today’s editorial in the Detroit Free Press advocates Berkley residents to vote NO on the proposal:
The decision made solid sense then, and on Nov. 6 citizens should insist the choice stand now by voting NO on a charter amendment that would require the city to display a nativity scene on public property.
There ought to be equal distaste for the amendment’s demands as there was among some for the city’s bow to the ACLU.
Both smack of inflexible strong-arming. Beyond fumbling with the charter, the proposal overreaches, going so far as to set the dates of the display and the minimum requirements of which holiday figures to include, namely Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Noticeably absent is any mention of Santa Claus.
Georgia Halloran makes the claim that this isn’t about promoting a religion, but if that’s true then why all the fuss over where the nativity is displayed? If not an implied government endorsement then what is it she thinks is gained by having the nativity on government property? How is the display diminished by having it on private Church property where it’s still in full view of the public, but no longer gives the impression of government endorsement? There answers to both questions won’t be found on their webpage because they don’t bother to address them. One is left to conclude that implied government endorsement is exactly the goal in mind.