12/20 Times Leader Article

December 21, 2009

Protesters have their say

BILL O ’ BOYLE boboyle@timesleader.com

WILKES-BARRE – About 30 people showed up Sunday to rally for the return of the holiday displays to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn – a decision that has already been made by the county’s leadership.

While the protesters listened to brief speeches, several children played in the background – some of them lying down on the courthouse lawn to make snow angels to add a touch of irony to the day. The rally was held on the site where the manger scene and menorah stood until last week.

The issue over religious displays on public property emerged last week when the American Civil Liberties Union and another group threatened to file suit against the county to remove the Nativity and menorah on the courthouse lawn.

Justin Vacula, a King’s College student, filed the complaint with the ACLU.

The displays were removed, but one county official said they will be returned as part of a display featuring secular holiday objects.

Vito DeLuca, county solicitor, said he has been working with a representative from the Rosenn Jenkins & Greenwald law firm, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to create a display that is acceptable to everyone.

“That’s great, but it shouldn’t have been removed in the first place,” said Frank Scavo, rally organizer. “It’s the Christmas and Hanukkah season; any religion should be allowed to put up an appropriate display during their time of celebration.

“This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles; the Constitution provides freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

Scavo said that allowing such displays is a constitutional right and he scourged the ACLU for not being thorough in its mission to remove religious symbolism from all government buildings and currency.

“Maybe someone from the ACLU should climb to the top of the Washington Monument and remove the plaque that reads ‘Laus Deo’ – which means honor God,” Scavo said. “And maybe ‘In God We Trust’ should be removed from the dollar bill.”

The protesters clapped and shouted in the below-freezing weather, holding signs while passing vehicles blared their horns in support.

“This shows our county commissioners how the people of Luzerne County feel about this issue,” Scavo said.

One sign read, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and another read “It’s Christmas, not Xmas.”

Scavo led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the rally. An American flag was placed next to the speaker’s podium.

“We don’t need the ACLU to interpret our laws or Constitution for us,” Scavo said. “This is a matter of extremely poor timing. Where was the ACLU when the civil rights of our children were being denied in that courthouse?”

Scavo said activist Gene Stilp plans to bring a live manger scene to the courthouse lawn 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is about doing what is right,” said Renee Schroeder. “People are fed up.”

The Wilkes-Barre law firm of Rosenn Jenkins and Greenwald has offered free representation to the county and donated $1,000 to purchase other holiday secular items to be included in the display.

DeLuca said he expects that once a design is approved, the county’s Christmas display should be back in place on courthouse grounds this morning.

Bill O’Boyle, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7218.