Avella calls for hearing on public school creches

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City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) has invoked a little−known city rule in an attempt to schedule a hearing on his resolution that would require the city Department of Education to allow Nativity scenes or creches to be displayed in public schools during the holiday season.

Avella introduced legislation last year that would require the DOE to change its stance. The department currently allows Christmas trees to be placed in public schools, not religious symbols relating to the holiday. But he pointed out that the department permits the menorah and the crescent moon, which are symbols of Judaism and Islam, to be displayed during each religion’s particular holidays.

“It’s all about fairness,” Avella said. “It would be different if the DOE prevented all religious symbols. You can’t just discriminate against Christian faiths. And a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol — it’s of pagan origin. It has nothing to do with the religious significance of Christmas.”

Avella said city schools should allow a Nativity scene or creche to be depicted in public schools as a symbol of Christmas.

The DOE could not be reached for comment.

The DOE’s regulation A−630 stipulates that “depict[ing] images of deities, other religious figures, or religious texts are prohibited” and that religious symbols must always appear together so as not to “promote or celebrate any single religion or holiday.”

In late October, the councilman invoked the city’s Sponsor’s Privilege Rule, which would require City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D−Manhattan) to either set a date for a hearing on the matter or deny it within 60 days of Avella’s petition.

Avella said he has not yet heard from Quinn on his proposal. He said he hoped his proposal could be passed before the upcoming holiday season.

“They’ve refused to pay attention,” Avella said of Quinn and the DOE. “I’ve been trying to get a meeting to sit down and discuss it. But they just don’t want to deal with this.”

Avella had originally introduced legislation in July 2007 after he was motivated by College Point parent Andrea Skoros, a Catholic, who filed suit against the city in 2001 on the grounds that city rules “promoted” Judaism and Islam and “conveyed the impermissible message of disapproval of Christiani­ty.” Skoros had filed suit after one of her sons was asked to color in a menorah at Flushing’s PS 165.

Skoros lost her suit in 2004 and the decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“It is up to the New York City authorities to either practice inclusion and allow creches to be displayed or practice discrimination and deny them,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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