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Curbs on Japanese Ceremony Relaxed

December 25, 1991

Torrance city officials have tentatively decided to allow portions of a Japanese ceremony to be performed at the city's Cultural Arts Center.

The city earlier barred most of the ceremony, arguing that it was a Shinto religious ritual that would violate the constitutional separation of church and state to perform it in a city-owned building.

But, in the wake of a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, the city has drafted a proposal to allow four of the ceremony's five parts at the opening of a Japanese classical arts program Jan. 10-11. The ACLU letter concluded that the other portions of the ceremony were not overtly religious.

The city's proposal has been sent to the ACLU. The ACLU lawyer handling the matter is out of town and could not be reached for comment, but the proposal mirrors what the ACLU had suggested be approved.

Previously, the city attorney had banned three of the parts planned in the ceremony. Under the new guidelines, only one part of the original ceremony--the presence of a Shinto priest who was to purify the theater by shaking a paper wand--will not be allowed.

Three other parts can be used as planned: the traditional sprinkling of salt, the presentation of ceremonial drumsticks and a poetry reading. The fifth part, a ceremonial dance, was not questioned by the city.

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