WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (Sep. 22)
Display of the Nativity scene on a lawn in front of a public school does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the separation of church and state, State Supreme Court Justice Hugh S. Coyle ruled here yesterday.
The ruling upheld the previous decision of the Board of Education at Harts dale, a suburb, to build a creche and display the Nativity scene in front of one of the town’s public schools. The board’s 3-2 decision had been appealed to the court by 16 residents of Harts-dale, who sought to ban not only the Nativity scene, displayed every Christmas season in front of the school, but also other religious symbols, Jewish Mohammedan or Buddhist.
Declaring that the “ultimate objective” of the appellants could result in the “entire elimination from schools of Religious symbols, ” Judge Coyle held that the Hartsdale display does “not constitute active involvement by the Government in religious exercises, ” and is not comparable to the banned recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or the Bible in classrooms. He stated that the creche on the school lawn is “a passive accommodation of religion” and no one is forced to look. To outlaw the display, he held, “would be tantamount to sanctioning judicially a policy of nonrecognition of God in public schools.”