California Court Allows Chabad to Display Menorah at City Hall

California’s Supreme Court has upheld the right of the Chabad Lubavitch movement to place a Chanukah menorah at the Los Angeles City Hall, rejecting claims that the display would violate the separation of church and state.

The case arose in December 1985, when Chabad obtained permission from municipal authorities to display a 19th-century Chanukiah, originally used in Polish synagogues, near a Christmas tree in the City Hall rotunda.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued to block the display, but both a Los Angeles Superior Court judge and the state Court of Appeal agreed with attorneys for the city that the exhibit did not promote religion and therefore was constitutional.

In its decision last January, the appellate court noted that the display had a valid secular purpose, did not advance or inhibit religion and did not represent “excessive entanglement of church and state.”

Furthermore, display of the small, unlit menorah helped educate the public because it was saved from destruction during the Holocaust, according to the appeals court ruling.

The ACLU then took the case to the state Supreme Court, which, however, declined unanimously to hear the challenge, thereby letting the decision of the appellate court stand.

Carol Sobel, the ACLU attorney, said she might appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule before it recesses next month on a similar case, involving display of a menorah at a government building in Pittsburgh.

In New York, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement, said he was pleased at the California ruling but would withhold further comment until the Pittsburgh case is decided.

Chabad lost a different menorah case earlier this month, when a federal appeals court threw out the movement’s appeal of a ruling forbidding it from leaving a menorah standing overnight on the grounds of the Iowa state Capitol.

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