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      Front Page December 13, 2008  RSS feed

      Separation of church and state has 'gone overboard' mayor says

      Call a Christmas tree what it is, not a holiday tree, Acropolis says
      BY PATRICIA A. MILLER Staff Writer

      ERIC SUCAR staff A Nativity scene and a decorated Christmas tree are part of the holiday displays outside Town Hall on Chambers Bridge Road. ERIC SUCAR staff A Nativity scene and a decorated Christmas tree are part of the holiday displays outside Town Hall on Chambers Bridge Road. BRICK TOWNSHIP - When township spokesman Edward Maroney asked Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis what to call the annual tree lighting recently, the mayor didn't hesitate.

      "I said, 'Hey, it's a Christmas tree,' "Acropolis said.

      The tree lighting was held at dusk on Dec. 2, shortly after a brief reception with holiday songs and a visit from Santa Claus in town hall. "At the beginning, I said 'Now we'll light our Christmas tree,' "You notice I said Christmas tree and not holiday tree, Acropolis said. "People actually clapped."

      Society has "gone overboard" with the separation of church and state, the mayor said.

      The township will hold a menorah lighting to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 22 .

      "Let's move on," the mayor said. "It's a Christmas tree. When we have the Menorah, we don't call it a holiday candle."

      The township also has a nativity scene set up next to the Christmas tree. There were many years the scene was not displayed, he said. "I said I want it out, put it out,"Acropolis said. "Everybody is being too politically correct here. Let's get back to our foundations We have a menorah outside and we celebrate that as well. We were founded on Judeo-Christian values. Our founding fathers spoke about that and that's where we are going. I didn't think it would generate that much publicity."

      The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged displays of stand-alone créches in government buildings or on government properties.

      A 1989 Supreme Court decision - County of Allegheny vs. ACLU - found that a standalone créche displayed inside the county courthouse violated the First Amendment because it was "…endorsing a patently Christian message..." according to the ACLU's Web site.

      But another case - Lynch vs. Donnelly, 1984 - the court found that a nativity-scene display that was only one part of a much larger governmental seasonal holiday display was permissible, the ACLU Web site states.

      "If the ACLU wants to come and sue us for that, what are they going to sue us for?" Acropolis said. "There's nowhere in the law that says you're not allowed to have a Christmas tree. It says you can't promote a specific religion."

      While many towns in New Jersey have abandoned faith-based displays, Acropolis didn't want Brick to be one of them.

      "I wish people Merry Christmas," he said. "I don't say 'Happy Holidays.' During the Jewish holiday I say 'Shalom.' Brick is not like a lot of other towns. We are usually in the forefront of pretty much everything."

      Acropolis is moving to revive the Brick Ministerium- a group made up of representatives from all churches and religious organizations in town.

      "That went away for years," he said. "We didn't have that."

      The group recently held its first meeting, Acropolis said.

      "Let's talk about problems in our town," he said. "The homeless. Food banks. Faithbased organizations are doing a much better job of administering programs than the government. They know where the needs are."