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Catholic groups sues city over Islamic, Jewish displays in public schools • Wednesday December 11, 2002

AP, Dec. 10, 2002
By Chaka Ferguson, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) New York is discriminating against Christian students by allowing Islamic and Jewish holiday symbols to be displayed in public schools while banning nativity creches, a Catholic organization suing the city charged Tuesday.

”All we’re asking for the city of New York to do is to treat Catholics the same way they do Jews and Muslims,” said William Donohue, president of the Catholic League. ”This is nothing but pure, unadulterated religious discrimination.”

The Thomas More Law Center argues in the lawsuit that the Department of Education holiday policy is unconstitutional because it permits Hanukkah menorahs and the Islamic star and crescent as secular symbols but prohibits scenes of Jesus’ birth in a manger as religious.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Brooklyn federal court, was brought on behalf of Andrea Skoros, a Catholic League member who has two sons at the Edith K. Bergtraum School in Queens. It lists the department, schools Chancellor Joel Klein and principal Sonya Lupion as defendants.

The department’s policy ”endorses and promotes the religions of Judaism and Islam, conveys the impermissible message of disapproval of Christianity and coerces students, including the two minor sons of (the plaintiff), to accept the Jewish and Islamic religions,” the lawsuit claims.

The law center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and promoting the religious freedom of Christians, is seeking a court injunction against the policy and nominal damages of $1 or more, which would allow it to recover court costs and legal fees.

Richard Thompson, lead counsel for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based law center, said the department issued a memo encouraging teachers to take to school religious symbols that represent the Islamic and Jewish religions but made no mention of Christian symbols.

The policy does allow Christmas trees, which are considered secular, Thompson said.

The education department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

But spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said the school’s policy adheres to the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

Thompson said the menorahs and displays of the star and crescent are religious in nature and not secular, as education officials contend.

”The specific policy allows public schools in the city of New York to put on religious symbols of other religions but specifically refuses to allow Christians to put on and display a nativity scene,” he said.

Donohue said he wants the schools to display all religious symbols.

”The intolerant way to resolve it is to ban everybody equally,” he said. ”I want the tolerant way, which is to allow Catholics to compete with Muslims and Jews and have our religious symbols in there for a short period of time.”

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