NY School Says No to Nativity, Yes To Menorah, Crescent and Star

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - A New York City school is accused of religious discrimination for allowing the display of Islamic and Jewish symbols, but not Christian symbols.

According to the Catholic League, Dr. Fran Levy, principal of the Thomas Jefferson Magnet School of Humanities in Flushing, N.Y., issued a memo directing teachers to bring religious symbols to school that represent Kwanzaa and the Islamic and Jewish religions, but excluded Christianity, with the exception of a Christmas tree, which is a secular symbol.

"Dr. (Fran) Levy has issued a memo that is mind-boggling. She has set her school up for a lawsuit. It would be hard to find a more classic demonstration of discrimination against Christians in a public school anywhere in the nation," said Catholic League President William Donohue.

"The Christmas tree is a secular symbol. If she is going to allow religious symbols such as a menorah and crescent and star, then she must permit the display of a nativity scene," he said.

"Either that or ban all religious symbols. But we will not tolerate a discriminatory policy and that is why we will use all our resources to correct this injustice," Donohue added.

A spokesperson for the school refused to comment, but referred to a statement by New York City Chancellor Harold O. Levy, which read: "I have spoken with superintendent of District 25 in Queens, N.Y. It appears that the lobby in PS 22 contains a Christmas tree, a Menorah and the Star and Crescent.

Chancellor Levy said the display is in line with Supreme Court teachings that the Christmas tree and the Menorah have achieved secular status.

"They are displayed side-by-side in a manner intended to reflect the beliefs and customs of the district, in a dignified and respectful way," he said in a statement. "Accordingly, these symbols could not be interpreted to signify the promotion or celebration of any single religion or holiday."

Chancellor Levy added: "The Catholic League has requested that the school should also display the nativity scene. The Supreme Court has previously refused to permit erection of a nativity scene on public property," the statement concluded.

According to the school's written policy on holiday displays, "the display of secular holiday symbols decorations is permitted. Such symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, Menorahs, and the Star and the Crescent."

Additionally, "Holiday displays shall not appear to promote or celebrate any single religion or holiday. Therefore, any symbol or decoration which may be used must be displayed simultaneously with other symbols or decorations reflecting different beliefs or customs," the policy reads.

"All holiday displays should be temporary in nature," the policy adds. "The primary purpose of all displays shall be to promote the goal of fostering understanding and respect for the rights of all individuals regarding their beliefs, values and customs."