Christmas discrimination in Boca Raton Florida

The city of Boca Raton doesn’t accept donated holiday decorations, but the policy was not going to deter the Rev. Mark D. Boykin.

A crèche, a Nativity scene depicting Jesus Christ’s birth, is the Christian symbol of Christmas, Boykin said, and has a rightful place alongside the Hanukkah menorah that sits atop a table in the city library. There’s a Christmas tree nearby, but, Boykin says, that’s a secular symbol that doesn’t impart the true meaning of the holiday.

So he and about 50 members of the Church of All Nations arrived at the library on Boca Raton Boulevard on Thursday afternoon with crèche in hand.

For nearly an hour they sang hymns, recited prayers and waved signs calling for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Just before 1, they filed inside the library to make their presentation. Library Services Manager Catherine A. O’Connell was expecting them.

“We’re trying to be noncontroversial and enjoy the season without being partial to any religious organization,” O’Connell explained before the group came inside. “The menorah is a secular symbol, as is the Christmas tree and garland.”

Officials in the city manager’s and city attorney’s offices could not be reached for comment, despite attempts by phone.

Encircling O’Connell, Boykin and his followers — accompanied by their own camera crew, which was streaming live to the Web — asked her for permission to place the crèche by the Christmas tree. She explained city policy about donated holiday decorations, then watched as Boykin walked over and gently placed the manger scene beneath the tree anyway.

He blessed it and thanked O’Connell for her understanding.

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions deal with holiday decorations on public property, but neither specifically addresses a crèche alongside a menorah and a Christmas tree, according to David Barkey, southern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.

“The Supreme Court says the menorah has religious and secular meaning,” Barkey said. “Next to a Christmas tree, the overall message is secular and OK. It’s never addressed a menorah next to a crèche, or a menorah, a crèche and a Christmas tree. It’s called the December dilemma and every year the same issue comes up.”

A similar controversy cropped up last week in Delray Beach when Jewish residents complained about the absence of a menorah from a holiday display at Old School Square. The situation was resolved when a Margate company donated a menorah.

Boykin, who believes the menorah is a Jewish religious symbol, wants the city to purchase crèches just as it has menorahs.

“This is not about the shades of candy canes or the height of a Christmas tree. It’s about eight city-owned facilities where menorahs are present,” he argued. “They believe because they have a Christmas tree it should placate all Christians. [The city] is discriminating against Christians.”

As Boykin and his followers left the library, O’Connell wished the group happy holidays.

“Merry Christmas,” Boykin replied.

What will happen to the donated crèche is anybody’s guess.

“We don’t have responsibility for it,” O’Connell said.

Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 24th, 2009 at 2:06 pm and is filed under sad but true. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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