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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ballot vote may return Nativity display to Michigan city

Ed Thomas
October 23, 2007

A grassroots petition drive has managed to gather enough signatures to place on the November election ballot in Berkley, Michigan, a "charter amendment" initiative that seeks to return a 65-year-old Nativity display to municipal property following a decision by the city council to have it removed.

The council's decision was made under a threat of legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union -- and despite an offer of free legal help in that situation from the Ann Arbor-based public-interest law firm Thomas More Law Center. Georgia Halloran, a Berkley resident who tipped off the Law Center to the case, then offered to spearhead the petition drive that has now successfully placed the issue -- and a charter amendment proposal which would let the residents decide -- on the November 6 general election ballot.

Thomas More spokesman attorney Brian Rooney says his firm expects the wording of the amendment itself to succeed if the charter vote is affirmative, since it is modeled after a similar amendment crafted by the city of Clawson, Michigan. "Because the [U.S.] Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals -- which is the circuit court in this area of Michigan -- ruled that the Clawson city Nativity scene passed constitutional muster," the attorney explains.

Rooney claims the Berkley city council is trying its best to stop the initiative, but the requirements are legally set now that the charter amendment has qualified for the ballot. According to the attorney, the citizens who support it are very energized for the upcoming vote.