Rutherford Institute Urges Berkley (Mich.) City Officials to Display Nativity Scene in Front of City Hall, Despite ACLU Threats

Berkley, Mich. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are urging the Berkley City Council to allow a nativity scene to continue to be displayed outside city hall, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union. In a letter to Berkley Mayor Marilyn Stephan and members of the Berkley City Council, Institute president John W. Whitehead pointed out that the City’s holiday display, which includes symbols of Christmas, Chanukah and the secular aspects of the year-end celebrations, does not violate the Constitution.

“It is plainly a legal, time-honored practice for local governments to sponsor the kind of holiday display that the City of Berkley has traditionally erected,” said John W. Whitehead, president of “The City should not fear to commemorate the various aspects of the holiday season, both religious and secular, and should stand by its tradition confident that there is no offense to the requirements of the Constitution.”

For 65 years, the City of Berkley has allowed a holiday nativity scene to be displayed in front of its City Hall. The nativity scene has been displayed alongside other symbols of the holiday season, including a Star of David, snowmen, Christmas trees and a Santa Claus mailbox. However, after the American Civil Liberties Union reportedly accused the City of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment with its nativity display and threatened a lawsuit, city officials began debating whether or not to continue their long-standing practice of allowing the holiday displays in front of City Hall. City officials have been discussing alternatives to the holiday display, such as moving the crèche to a nearby business property, establishing a free-speech zone where religious groups can display their symbols or allowing a coalition of religious leaders to decide where to place the scene.

However, as Whitehead pointed out in his letter to city officials, the display does not offend the Constitution. Whitehead assured Mayor Stephan that by including symbols of Christmas, Chanukah and the secular aspects of the year-end celebrations in its holiday display, the City conveys a “message of pluralism” that does not constitute improper endorsement of any particular religion or religion in general. The Institute’s letter also pointed out that “[t]he City of Berkley’s display, which includes a crèche, a Star of David and various secular symbols of the holiday season and winter, falls safely within the parameters established by the courts for compliance with the Establishment Clause.”

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