NYC City Council Takes Up Issue of Discrimination Against Christians in City’s Public Schools

[Last] Wednesday, the New York City Council heard testimony from attorney Brian Rooney of the Thomas More Law Center and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League in support of a Council Resolution that would end discrimination against Christians in the City’s public schools during the Christmas season. The current school policy expressly permits the display of the Islamic Star and Crescent and the Jewish Menorah during their respective religious holidays, but completely bans the display of nativity scenes during Christmas.Council member Tony Avella introduced the resolution on Wednesday that called upon the City’s Department of Education (DOE) to end its discriminatory policy.  Click here to read the City Council’s resolution.

In his prepared remarks Rooney told the council, “The Star and Crescent and Menorah are religious symbols that serve the DOE’s secular learning purpose.  A crèche is no different.  Discrimination is discrimination, and the DOE’s policy has the effect of being discriminatory.  By excluding the crèche, the DOE’s policy current policy is internally inconsistent, objectively hostile and bigoted, and it must be changed.”

Click here to read Rooney’s full remarks in support of the resolution.

Several other members of the New York City faith community testified as well.   A representative of Americans United for Separation of Church and State testified in opposition to the resolution.

The Council resolution was prompted by a ruling of the Second Circuit Court in a lawsuit challenging the policy brought by the Thomas More Law Center, a national, public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Andrea Skoros and her two minor children, devout Roman Catholics, who wanted to display a nativity scene during Christmas. 

In their ruling, the Second Circuit Court clarified that the Menorah and Star and Crescent are in fact religious symbols – contrary to the DOE policy.  Although the Court did not rule that displaying a nativity scene would be unconstitutional, its reasoning allowing for the Menorah and Star and Crescent make clear that if the school system wanted to place a crèche in schools, this too would be constitutional.  Essentially, the Second Circuit Court left the issue of the crèche up to the school officials.

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