How the Scarsdale manger landed in the United States Supreme Court: the Nativity scene committee keeps the tradition alive



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Here’s a vacation story you might not have heard of. After watching Nativity scenes across the county and country, removed from public property for the past four decades, I wondered how I had continued to see a Nativity scene in Scarsdale in December before Christmas. And next to the Nativity is a sign: “This manger was erected and maintained by the Scarsdale Creche Committee, a private organization.”

I returned home and researched how the village of Scarsdale for many years allowed the Nativity scene to be erected by the Scarsdale Nursery Committee at Boniface Circle for about two weeks during the Christmas season, from 1957 to nineteen eighty one.

However, in 1981, following complaints from several residents who described the Crèche as insensitive, the Village Commission banned the crèche.

Several Scarsdale residents and the nursery committee have sued the Scarsdale board of directors in Federal Court, claiming First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and free speech have been violated. United States District Court Judge Charles Stewart ruled in 1983 that the nursery was wrongly an “inadmissible establishment of religion on public land”, making the village square of Scarsdale “the messenger” for a religious belief.

The nursery committee and Scarsdale resident lawyer Kathleen McCreary, named after the case (McCreary v. Stone) appealed to the United States Court of Appeal, which held in 1984 that, although the village council’s denial of the nursery was properly founded, a recent Lynch v Donnelly case, which concluded that “an equal access policy would not contravene” having religious symbols on public property, overturned the lower court’s decision.

Scarsdale’s board of directors then voted to appeal to the nation’s highest court. The question was, and still is, whether a religious symbol such as a manger or a menorah, placed on public property, was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which calls for separation from the Church and of State.

The case was heard in 1985 by just eight USSC judges: Judge Lewis Powell was absent due to illness. With a split of 4-4, the judges upheld the appeal court’s decision.

Since then, this simple and traditional nursery has been placed for two weeks in the middle of Scarsdale. And every year, the Scarsdale board votes on whether to allow the Scarsdale nursery committee’s request, including this year, in November 2021, and the nursery will increase from December 15.

For me, this shows the importance of highlighting all religious celebrations. So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa Westchester!

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