Avella holds off vote on Nativity scenes

Tony Avella
By Nathan Duke

City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) said he plans to keep pushing the city to allow Nativity scenes or creches to be displayed in public schools during the holiday season following a recent hearing on the matter by the Council.

The city Department of Education currently allows Christmas trees to be placed in public schools, but not religious symbols relating to the holiday. But the department allows the menorah and the crescent moon, symbols of Judaism and Islam, to be displayed during the winter holiday season.

Avella said the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol and that a Nativity scene or creche should be depicted in schools as a symbol of Christmas.

“I’m going to keep the pressure on and will make it an issue during the mayoral campaign,” said Avella, who is running against Mayor Michael Bloomberg this year. “If we are going to be inclusive to all religious groups in this city, then we can’t exclude Christmas.”

The Council held a hearing last week on Avella’s legislation that calls on the city to include Christian symbols during the holidays. He said no further hearings have been scheduled.

Avella said members of the city’s Catholic League and Polish American Congress spoke at the hearings. He said he does not plan to put the measure to a vote at this time.

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

Avella had originally introduced a bill in 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 it “promoted” Judaism and Islam and “conveyed the impermissible message of disapproval of Christianity.”

Skoros lost her suit three years later and the decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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

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