A Chabad’s efforts to erect a Hanukkah menorah in a public park in New Hampshire could lead to the banning of a Christmas tree on the same spot.
Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig denied a request from the local Chabad to light a 10-foot-tall menorah, expressing concerns about vandalism and anti-Semitic expression. He said the area town officials were not “comfortable” leaving the menorah on display for the eight nights of Hanukkah, The Associated Press reported.
“The broader concern though was, do we want to open the public square up to all religions?” Selig told CBS.
Chabad had asked to be allowed to place the menorah next to the “holiday tree,” formerly known as a Christmas tree, that has been set up in the park for decades.
The town’s Human Rights Commission is likely to recommend dispensing with all holiday displays, including the tree that currently is standing in the park. One possibility the commission is toying with is a nonreligious winter carnival, according to the CBS report.
The legal standard for holiday displays established by the US Supreme Court holds that municipalities can use religious elements in Christmas displays if they don’t appear to advocate any one religion. That 1989 ruling said the city of Pittsburgh was allowed to place a menorah lent to them by Chabad alongside a Christmas tree.
Rabbi Berel Slavaticki, co-director of the University of New Hampshire and Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center, told the Associated Press that he is committed to working with the town administration “to create a path forward that will allow everyone to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
“The fact that the city allows for some to publicly express their culture is a good thing, and we hope that continues,” he said in a statement. “To stop people from openly expressing their particular faith seems un-American and would be a terrible loss for our town and our country.”
Meanwhile, Selig reportedly has received several expletive-laced voicemail messages from critics on both sides of the issue.