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Court upholds historic town's crèche ban

By The Associated Press


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BOSTON — The town of Lexington can continue to regulate displays on its historic Battle Green, including a ban on a long-standing Christmas Nativity scene sponsored by the local Knights of Columbus.

A federal appeals court yesterday upheld a U.S. District Court decision allowing the town to place content-neutral restrictions on displays to protect the green's historic and aesthetic value.

The ruling of the three-judge panel admitted that the town's solution to clutter on the green "inhibits some speech," but said the regulations did not favor one religion or group over another, "suppresses no more speech than necessary, and leaves open ample alternative avenues of communication."

Attorney Jordana Glasgow, who represents Lexington and its select board, said, "Obviously we're very pleased with the decision."

"It hasn't silenced anyone's speech or religious freedom, it just regulates the time, place and manner of that expression, which the town is permitted to do," she said.

Lorraine Fournier, who is part of a citizens group that has been demonstrating every Wednesday in support of the Nativity display, called the ruling "a joke."

"We are losing our religious liberties in this country," Fournier said. "This is a sign of intolerance for religion in the public forum."

Chester Darling, an attorney with Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights, who represented the townsfolk, said he was preparing to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The green was the site of the first Revolutionary War battle. Eight colonists were killed when they confronted British soldiers on April 19, 1775. Seven are still buried there.

A crèche had been maintained on the green for 70 to 80 years, but some residents began to object in recent years, saying it symbolized a town endorsement of Christianity.

To publicize their concerns, those residents applied for permits to display symbols of other religions, including a pyramid honoring the Egyptian sun god, Ra, and a herd of cows to celebrate Hinduism.

After the select board passed regulations that allow temporary events or structures for eight hours, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization, sued.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner ruled for the town last December.

Selectman Peter Enrich said he hoped yesterday's ruling would put an end to the dispute.

"Our hope is that this will mark a conclusion to the controversary around the issue, and people can move on and enjoy the holiday," he said.


High court won't get involved in clergy malpractice case
Meanwhile, justices refuse to consider Massachusetts town's crèche ban or to hear case involving Nashville, Tenn., adult-entertainment law.  05.14.02


Federal judge backs town's move to ban Nativity scene from Battle Green
Crèche supporters accuse Lexington, Mass., officials of targeting Christians' free-speech rights, say they'll keep up fight.  12.07.00


Massachusetts town approves live Nativity scene
Meanwhile, ACLU, Nebraska city reach agreement allowing crèche on public property.  12.19.00