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An Unseasonal Brouhaha

December 13, 1987

In a season dedicated to good will among all men, the unnecessary controversy over the Nativity scenes in Balboa Park seemed to accomplish little besides sacrificing good will between San Diego's Christians and Jews.

First, the city attorney's office said that this will be the last year for the life-size Nativity scenes in Balboa Park because they violate the First Amendment. The next day, after scores of phone calls to City Hall, the city attorney said the creche does not necessarily violate the Constitution.

The decision to ban the eight scenes depicting the birth and life of Jesus Christ was prompted by an inquiry from the Jewish Community Relations Council. The council said it didn't ask for the Nativity figures to be taken down, but that it thought having the Christian symbols on city property violated the separation of church and state.

Apparently, the city attorney agreed and issued a preliminary opinion without consulting the mayor, who said she was outraged by the ruling.

The timing could not have been worse. City Hall and Jewish leaders were deluged with angry and ugly calls.

The solution worked out between the city and the Community Christmas Center Committee, which owns the Nativity scenes, sounds reasonable and one that could have been reached without the brouhaha. It calls for the committee to bear the cost of storing and erecting the scenes in the future. Further, a menorah and possibly symbols of other religions will be added to the display, which should allow a tradition of more than 20 years to continue without violating the Constitution.

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