BERKLEY, Mich. (AP) — It's an early skirmish in this year's edition of the Christmas wars. Voters in this Detroit suburb will decide Nov. 6 whether to return a Christian nativity scene to City Hall.
Under threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the city council voted last year to relocate figures of an infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a manger off city land and onto church property.
A group of citizens collected 952 signatures to force a vote on returning the nativity scene to its home for at least two decades — a small patch of grass behind City Hall.
"I'm tired of these organizations coming into a small-town community and threatening us with lawsuits and the city rolling over," said 37-year-old Georgia Halloran. "We are celebrating a national holiday. We are not promoting a religion. The government isn't supposed to be hostile toward religion."
After the ACLU threatened the city with a lawsuit in 2005, it moved a Santa mailbox closer to the nativity scene. But the ACLU returned in 2006 and the council sent the figures packing after lengthy public debate and examining several options from its legal department.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that nativity scenes are permissible on public land as long as secular symbols are displayed, too.
Similar disputes over Christmas decorations have broken out in cities and towns across the country in recent years, part of a debate about religion's place in the public square.