“The American Family Association (of Michigan)…urged the city (of Berkley) not to surrender to the ACLU in an e-mail to city officials that said its legal staff would defend the Christmas display — for free — in court. If Berkley accepted the offer, the AFA said it may take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. …(AFA-Michigan) was drawn to Berkley when officials refused to accept the ultimatum from the ACLU…’Thank you for refusing to be intimidated, bullied or bluffed by the American Civil Liberties Union’s annual anti-Christmas campaign,’ Gary Glenn, AFA-Michigan president, wrote to city officials.”
Royal Oak, Michigan
December 22, 2005
Berkley modifies nativity ACLU drops lawsuit threat
by Christy Strawser
BERKLEY, Mich. — The city blinked in its nativity scene standoff with the American Civil Liberties Union, as a conservative group known for fighting human rights ordinances across Oakland County offered to battle on Berkley’s behalf.
Berkley officials decided Wednesday to move a red and white Santa mailbox closer to the nativity scene, which includes a holiday tree and Star of David. The secular Santa was enough to appease the ACLU, which dropped its lawsuit threat.
“We’re definitely taking it seriously,” said Wendy Wagenheim, a spokeswoman for the ACLU. “We’re going to be meeting with them on Feb. 6 to discuss a long-term solution. But they’re going to add a Santa’s mailbox and at least one snowman and they’ll leave that up until the end of the season. For right now, that’s enough.”
The American Family Association, headquartered in Tupelo, Miss., had urged the city not to surrender to the ACLU in an e-mail to city officials that said its legal staff would defend the Christmas display Ã¢â‚¬â€ for free Ã¢â‚¬â€ in court.
If Berkley accepted the offer, the AFA said it may take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. But that’s apparently not necessary.
“There has to be a balance, and we will take it into consideration in early January to find out where we go in subsequent years,” Mayor Marilyn Stephan said.
If the nativity issue had gone to court, City Council would have had to decide whether to accept help from the AFA, a group controversial for its anti-gay stance. The AFA fought human rights ordinances successfully in Royal Oak and Ferndale in 2001 and unsuccessfully in Huntington Woods.
The AFA was drawn to Berkley when officials refused to accept the ultimatum from the ACLU, which said the city violated the U.S. Constitution with its 65-year-old traditional Christmas display. Berkley officials tossed around the idea of adding Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman to make the display more secular and rejected the notion Monday.
“Thank you for refusing to be intimidated, bullied or bluffed by the American Civil Liberties Union’s annual anti-Christmas campaign,” Gary Glenn, AFA-Michigan president, wrote to city officials.
Then city officials changed their position.
“It’s more convenient for little children anyway when Santa’s mailbox is in the front (of City Hall),” Stephan said.