N.Y. State Approves Nativity Scenes for Schools; City Disapproves

Charles A. Brind, counsel for the New York State Department of Education, ruled this weekend that nativity scenes may be presented in public schools. Christmas trees may be displayed, and Christmas plays may be given because, he said, the birth of Jesus Christ “has not only religious significance but is an event of history.”

Referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling banning official religious observances in public schools, Mr. Brind said: “There is no violation of either the Federal or State constitutions in presenting factual material relating to the birth of Christ in the public schools.” He said his opinion was “general,” and each school observance would have to be judged on its own merits as history, not as religion.

Thomas Nevins, assistant superintendent of New York City schools, said that, while the holiday season would be noted in many of the city’s schools this month, the programs will not include religious or devotional exercises, or symbols associated with religious groups.

The standard practice in this city, he said, “has been to urge principals not to have religious or devotional exercises in the public schools. Schools should not permit symbols which are closely identified with religious groups–such as the cross, or Chanukah candles or the Star of David.”

Declaring that, when Christmas carols are sung, they must be part of a secular program, he stated that there are many beautiful carols which “are not purely religious or devotional in nature that can be sung during the holiday season with enjoyment by the pupils.”

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