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FEDERAL JUDGE RULES AGAINST A CITY'S USE OF A NATIVITYSCENE

AP (NYT) 332 words
Published: July 24, 1984

DETROIT, July 23 -

A Federal district judge ruled today that a Nativity scene erected last year by the city of Birmingham, Mich., was unconstitutional because it promoted only one set of religious beliefs.

The ruling appeared to be the first on the constitutionality of Christmas displays since the Supreme Court ruled in March that a Rhode Island Christmas display was constitutional, said Jon Kingsepp, an attorney for Birmingham, a Detroit suburb.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Mickey Levin, a Birmingham resident.

The suit charged that the display implied that city officials were declaring Birmingham a Christian community and that the display served no secular purpose, said Howard Simon, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the A.C.L.U.

The Supreme Court ruled in March that a Pawtucket, R.I., Nativity scene was constitutional because it was part of a larger Christmas display that included a Santa Claus, reindeer, candy canes and other secular decorations, Mr. Simon said. Only a Cr eche in Birmingham

The Birmingham display had only a creche, he said.

''The judge took a very restrictive view of the Supreme Court decision,'' Mr. Kingsepp said. ''We took a broader perspective merely by indicating that even if you show something similar that was religious in its origins it serves some secular purpose as long as there is no involvement by government officials in the promulgation of a religious view.''

Birmingham had filed a motion for dismissal of the A.C.L.U. suit after the Supreme Court ruling. The A.C.L.U. then filed a counter-motion asking that the display be ruled unconstitutional under the guidelines set out in the high court ruling, Mr. Simon said.

The judge today granted the A.C.L.U.'s motion and denied the city's, he said.

''I'm sure questions will be asked on the merits of an appeal,'' Mr. Kingsepp said. The lawyers were to meet with city officials tonight.

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