Judge: Christmas trees aren't religious symbols, menorah won't be displayed

A federal judge in California has ruled that Christmas trees are no longer seen as religious symbols and therefore, a menorah – which is religious – can be refused from being displayed at a school holiday ceremony.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose on Friday relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Christmas trees are no longer purely religious symbols in making a decision on whether Michele Lyons in Carmel would be able to add a menorah to a school ceremony where her third-grader attended. 

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The Supreme Court ruling paved the way for a menorah to be placed next to the Christmas tree outside City Hall, Freeman said. But the judge noted that in other contexts, the menorah, a Jewish candelabra used to celebrate Hanukkah, can still be considered an expression of religion. 

So officials at Carmel River Elementary School had some basis for deciding inclusion of the menorah balloon could be considered an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, the judge said, according to the Chronicle.

According to Lyons' lawsuit, the school sent an email this month inviting students to bring items to the ceremony that reflected their "values, heritage, and/or faith." But they said the local PTA, which sponsored the event, required each item to fit into a paper lunch bag, which disqualified the menorah balloon. 

Freeman said other aspects of the case were "troubling" and Lyons could still try to prove the school violated her rights. 

The Chronicle reported Lyons decided to drop her suit and put up her inflated menorah balloon at a home across the street from the school during the tree-lighting.