Friday, December 17, 2004


Another Florida Grinch

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Pasco County officials have banned Christmas trees from public buildings in a move that one constitutional law group said Thursday was "the most extreme example of censorship imaginable."

The last of the Christmas trees were removed Wednesday after the county attorney said they were religious symbols, said Dan Johnson, assistant county administrator for Public Services.

The county either had to allow all religious symbols or none, he said.

"What you allow for one you must provide for all," Johnson said.

Pasco County, with nearly 400,000 residents, is a fast-growing area that has a mix of rural and urban areas and whose population has grown due to the urban sprawl that has crawled north from Tampa.

The American Center for Law & Justice said the decision was based on a flawed understanding of the law. Senior counsel Francis Manion said Christmas trees are legally considered a secular symbol for the observance of a national holiday: Christmas.

"They don't seem to understand the law, quite frankly, especially in concern with Christmas trees," Manion said.

The center's chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said in a press release that "this is the most extreme example of censorship imaginable."

The center asked the county Tuesday to reverse the decision.

Johnson said the decision would stand through the holidays, but it would be reviewed next year and he welcomed advice.

"If they have something, I wouldn't mind getting it," Johnson said, explaining that he would pass any information along to the county attorney.

Johnson said he heard from dozens of people who were unhappy with the decision.

"Christmas is a federal holiday, Christmas is a widespread tradition and I think the attempt to remove any decorations that refer to Christmas or the nativity are simply ridiculous," said Gary Hatrick, 47, associate editor at the Zephyrhills News in Pasco County.

Previously, the county allowed the display of Christmas trees, but not religious symbols, Johnson said. Recently, a man wanted to display a menorah at a public building. He said that when the county attorney investigated whether the menorah could be displayed, the attorney decided that Christmas trees were also religious symbols.

Pasco County is just north of the Tampa area on Florida's gulf coast.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?