A ‘shocking’ Legal Ruling

Rabbi David Saperstein, co-director of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center here, has called “shocking” the justification by a federal judge of a creche on Chicago’s City Hall grounds on the basis that the United States is a Christian country.

“The language of the decision” on November 5 by U.S. District Court Judge Frank McGarr in Chicago “is even more outrageous than the decision itself,” Saperstein said. McGarr rejected a challenge by five national Jewish organizations and a group of individuals to the presence of a creche, and a menorah sponsored by the Lubavitch movement, on public grounds. McGarr’s decision is expected to be appealed before a higher court.

In his decision, McGarr said: “The truth is that America’s origins are Christian with the result that some of our fondest traditions are Christian, and that our founding fathers intended and achieved full religious freedom for all within the context of a Christian nation in the First Amendment as it was adopted, rather than as we have rewritten it.”

200 YEARS OF CONSTITUTIONAL DOCTRINE VIOLATED

Saperstein charged that the McGarr decision violates 200 years of Constitutional doctrine. He said McGarr used his “rationale not only to justify the creche, “but to call as well for the state to participate freely in religious celebration of Christmas.”

But, he noted, “in order to protect himself under the current constitutional standard set out by the Supreme Court in the Lynch v. Donnelly (Pawtucket Creche) case, the judge also determined that the creche has become a symbol of secular national holiday devoid of its religious context.”

Saperstein stressed that “the uniqueness of the American vision was that freedom of religion would be protected by separating church and state and that all religions would be treated equally. It was in this context that religious life in America has flourished with unprecedented freedom throughout our history.”

The Jewish organizations that participated in the suit were the American Jewish Congress, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Central Conference of American Rabbis, United Synagogue of America, and the Rabbinical Assembly.

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