Creche Compromise Possible in Michigan

In Berkley, Michigan the city has erected a creche on the grounds of city hall for the past 65 years. Last year, the ACLU started making noise about a possible lawsuit, since the city pays for it and puts it up and does not allow any other religious displays, and now the city council is considering what to do about it. The Detroit News reports:

Since then, a city ad hoc committee has been studying the issue and recently narrowed its list of options down to three: move the creche to a nearby business property, establish a free-speech zone where religious groups can display their symbols, or allow a coalition of religious leaders to decide where to place the scene.

Mayor Marilyn Stephan said Wednesday no decision has been made on the highly emotional issue that has prompted numerous angry e-mails from residents demanding the city leave the Nativity scene in place.

Any of those three possibilities are perfectly reasonable. It should be clear to anyone who is not a braindead zealot that if the government pays for and erects a symbol to only one religion and allows no other such displays, it is endorsing that religion and providing support for it. If the creche is on private property and not paid for with tax dollars, it's entirely fine. And if they allow all religious groups to put up their own displays on public property, then it's fine too. The mayor of the town seems to understand that just fine:

Stephan, who describes herself as a devout Christian in her private life but a believer in the separation of church and state as mayor, said the city has consulted with the Berkley Clergy Association for guidance on the matter.

"The issue is: This is a matter of municipal sponsorship of religious items. That is the bottom line. Is that our job?" Stephan said. "I do not believe that is the job of a city, a county, a state, a nation. When you take one religious symbol, you are promoting it."

But of course, some are clearly not that reasonable:

Resident Georgia Halloran disagrees. Halloran, part of a grass-roots coalition of residents calling themselves STAT -- Stopping the ACLU Tyranny -- wants the Nativity scene to stay put.

"This time of year nobody is thinking about Nativity. We want people to know what is going on," Halloran said of her desire to get the word out on the issue now.

"In my opinion, (moving) it would capitulate to the ACLU. It should stay on the city property where it has been for the last 65 years," she said.

Ah, of course. If you can't have the government endorse your beliefs, that's "tyranny". Are these people congenitally incapable of rational thought? It certainly appears so. But at least the head of the clergy association has a grasp on reality:

The Rev. George Covintree, a member of the clergy association, said the group would gladly accept the creche and display it outside his parish, Berkley First United Methodist Church on 12 Mile.

"It would be in full public display. We feel the best place to display religious symbols is within the context of the churches, synagogues and mosques," he said.

Again, a perfectly reasonable view. But here's my favorite part of the article:

After the American Civil Liberties Union threatened the city with a lawsuit, it moved a Santa mailbox closer to the Nativity scene. Covintree says Santa Claus does not represent Christmas.

"When the state or government agencies get into religion, it tends to water down the religion," Covintree said. "God was not Santa Claus. God was a baby."

Anyone familiar with the Supreme Court's various rulings on this issue has to laugh at that. The court has ruled that a Christmas display is not unconstitutional as long as it has non-religious symbols mixed in with it to dilute the meaning. A Santa, a couple reindeer, a few giant inflatable candy canes strewn about the place and you're good to go.

More like this

"When the state or government agencies get into religion, it tends to water down the religion," Covintree said.

This is coming from someone who supports keeping the exclusive Christmas display on public property? He needs to check his irony meter (not to mention logic).

When I was in law school, the "black letter" interpretation was "Santa and two reindeer" make a public creche acceptable. A stray menorah wouldn't hurt, but was not strictly necessary.

I thnk you read that wrong, kersham. Conintree is all for gettin the display off the government property and onto his church's (or other) property, according to his words in teh previous paragraph.

I think, taken in the context given, that he means that religion is watered down by having it endorsed by governemnt, and should therefore be moved into a more appropriate, religious setting (i.e., a church lawn).

I agree 100%.


Christians sure love to worship their idols.

Which part of this don't they understand?

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:"

And you can bet that the people fighting for their creches are the same ones fighting for the posting of the Commandments.

By Ick of the East (not verified) on 06 Oct 2006 #permalink


Yeah, you misread it. Covintree is in favor of moving the display to church property and rotating it among the churches in the town. His point was that if you keep it on public property, in order to comply with the Supreme Court's rulings on the subject, you have to water it down with non-religious symbols. And he's absolutely right, both in a specific and general way.

Apparently I read incorrectly. Good to know someone there (plus the mayor) has some sense.

Christians sure love to worship their idols.

Not to be picky or anything, but many of us do not. This is my biggest issue with those who call themselves christians yet fight to maintain some legal superiority of that faith. A state endoursment of Christianity would be prohibitive of actually choosing to live it. And it makes the rest of us who actually are Christians look really stupid, as the aforementioned comment indicates.

DuWayne wrote:

...those who call themselves christians...

Although I really agree with what you said, those people call themselves Christians because they are Christians. Just because they disagree with you about this issue doesn't mean they aren't Christian.

Jeez. Yes, I know not all Christians are the same. I'm only half a moron.

As usual, the typical view is that in funding and displaying this scene, the city isn't engaging in religion at all, but rather celebrating historical fact. OTHERS' beliefs are religion. Mine are Truth. Prove me wrong.

Flint said:

the typical view is that in funding and displaying this scene, the city isn't engaging in religion at all, but rather celebrating historical fact

Typical for who? Most, if not all, people I know see a nativity scene and immediately associate it with Christianity. Given that lawsuits have been filed over things like this, I highly doubt that the view you express is in any way typical.

Wow, I am literally unable to tell whether Flint's comment is sarcasm or not. My first thought was sarcasm, then it occurred to me that I have heard the exact same thing before on a few occasions. Is this the snark equivalent of a Turing Test?

By MJ Memphis (not verified) on 06 Oct 2006 #permalink

"Without the use of a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to make a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing." - Poe's Law

- JS

A Modest Proposal

I'd be willing to see Christian displays made with public tax dollars on public property provided they are part of a larger display that puts them in their historical or their psychological context.

For example a creche in historical context would include a big display about the Inquisition, what methods they used to question their victims, what their victims were condemned for supposedly having done, how the sentence was carried out, that kind of thing. Or perhaps a big display about the Crusades, and in particular what was happening to the Jews in Europe at that time. Or both, for completeness.

A creche in its psychological context would include a big display for the tooth fairy, the stork, the easter bunny, Santa Claus, leprechauns, and so on. This option would be less horrific, if you want to bring the kiddies by to celebrate Christmas. (I guess this would be the Santa Claus and two reindeer option expanded, if you will.)

By Cat Faber (not verified) on 08 Oct 2006 #permalink

"Santa and two reindeer" make a public creche acceptable
Since when is Santa Claus non-religious?
I thought he was Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Christian bishop of the 4th century.

Ospalh -
This may seem like splitting hairs, but Santa Claus is a folk tale that loosely bases it's origins on the Bishop of Myra. There is no place for Santa Claus in any Christian dogma, the fact that the legend sprung around a person who happened to be Christian, does not make the legend of Santa Claus a religious one.