Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Village Removes Menorah Rather Than Permitting Creche After Court Order

On Friday, a New York federal district court issued a temporary injunction in a creche case, Ritell v. The Village of Briarcliff Manor, (SDNY, Dec. 15, 2006). Briarcliff, Manor, New York had erected a 9-foot menorah beside a lighted natural evergreen tree in a public park, but refused to permit Henry Ritell to place a privately-funded creche next to the menorah. The village said that Christmas was already represented by the lighted tree. Court TV reports that Ritell disagreed, saying: "That's decorative. It doesn't mean Christ or Christianity. It's just lights on a tree."

The federal judge essentially agreed with Ritell. The court ruled that the prominent display of the menorah combined with the village's refusal to grant permits for other religious symbols constitutes an endorsement of one particular religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. It ordered the village to either permit the creche or remove the menorah. To the dismay of the Alliance Defense Fund (release), the city chose to remove the menorah. Initially it replaced it with a sign protesting the court's decision, but that was also removed after complaints by village residents. Today's Westchester Journal-News reports on reactions of village residents. (Also see prior related posting.)

UPDATE: The court's full opinion supporting its grant of a temporary injunction is available at 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94894 .