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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Canonsburg Voted Unanimously Monday night


Post-gazette NOW

Council brings back creche
Canonsburg allows display on borough, but with conditions
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The Canonsburg borough council voted unanimously Monday night to allow a creche back on borough property after a resident's complaint prompted the borough manager to move the display down the street.
But the decision comes with a catch: If the borough is going to make room for the three kings and baby Jesus, it has to make room for candy canes, snowflakes, Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and other secular holiday symbols for it to be considered "an acceptable holiday display," since past court cases have allowed creches in the presence of other holiday symbols.
About 30 residents attended the meeting and responded with ecstatic applause following the vote. All who spoke supported moving the creche back on the borough building's front lawn. When council President Joe Milioto asked if anyone in the audience disagreed, nobody responded.
"We didn't have any room for Jesus 2,000 years ago," said Councilman George Coleman Jr. "We do now in the people's yard."
Terry Hazlett, the borough manager, said he asked the Knights of Columbus to move the display off public property after resident Megan Hartley wrote a letter to the borough complaining the display was "disrespectful" to the community's non-Christian believers. Mr. Hazlett consulted with borough solicitor Pat Derrico, who advised that the display could prompt a lawsuit that the borough would likely lose.
The scenario has precedence locally. In 1989, in the case of County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that a nativity scene on the steps of the County Courthouse violated the First Amendment.
Mr. Derrico said the decision to allow the creche as long as there were secular holiday symbols would give the borough a line of defense in case there was a lawsuit filed.
The borough also would allow other groups to petition to display on the lawn, as long as the displays were "within reason" and did not desecrate any symbol on the lawn.
Residents and former residents who spoke during Monday night's meeting urged the borough to reinstate the creche, even if it brought a lawsuit.
"You can't have fear and God," said Victoria Scoumis, a Canonsburg native who lives in North Strabane. She said the borough should be willing to take on the challenge if its sued.
She said the borough should keep the creche in a tribute to the Christians who helped build the community. "Are you going to worry about money or are you going to think about the blessings of Canonsburg?"
Bradley Tupi, a Pittsburgh attorney who volunteers with the Alliance Defense Fund, said municipalities end up impinging on religious expression out of fear of lawsuits.
"What many municipal officials find themselves doing is squelching religious expression because they're afraid ...," he said. "You gotta fight."
Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.

First published on December 14, 2010 at 12:00 am