Citizens Voice Article – Courthouse – 12/17

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Published: December 17, 2009

Luzerne County removed its nativity scene and menorah displays from the courthouse lawn Wednesday after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the county on the basis the display is unconstitutional.

County Solicitor Vito DeLuca said the county received notice from the ACLU several weeks ago about the display. After it was clear the ACLU would continue with legal action unless the display was completely removed, they decided to take it down. DeLuca said the county’s insurance would automatically kick in if the county is sued.

“The county did not roll over on this,” DeLuca said. “We made several attempts to try to resolve the matter without removing the display or having the county face law suits.”

The county’s deductible of $175,000 in the matter would mean taxpayers would be responsible for that amount at a time of budget shortfall, he said.

“My job is to protect the county from legal matters,” DeLuca said. “Even if I wanted to be the lawyer on the case, our insurance would appoint another attorney.”

DeLuca said he believes the display, which only shows Christian and Jewish religious symbols, would be deemed unconstitutional based on previous court rulings because there are no secular displays. He said altering the display to add secular items, such as a snowman or Christmas tree, would be an option. Hastily changing the display to bring it to compliance didn’t make sense, DeLuca said, because the county could unwittingly offend someone if the display was changed in a way that was contrary to a religious faith’s beliefs.

“The county doesn’t want to do anything blasphemous or offensive to a religious faith,” he said.

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