Holiday Strife at the Courthouse

A Leon County decision to spend $7,000 on a menorah is becoming a holiday headache. The county said ok to a request to help fund a menorah for the courthouse lawn. Now, the ACLU is threatening to sue.

The rabbi who got the debate started points out if the county spends public money on Christmas trees, it's only fair that they do the same for a menorah, but a well-intentioned county donation has turned into a potential lawsuit.

At Tallahassee's metal supermarket, welders are working to finish an 18-foot, half-ton menorah.

"It means to me sending a message of liberty for all, just like the U.S. flag. A message of freedom of religion, liberty for all,” said Rabbi Schneur Oirechman

Rabbi Schneur Oirechman moved here from Israel. He commissioned the $10,000 menorah, and then got the county to chip in. The menorah is set to join the Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn, but after the county commission approved thousands in funding for the menorah, the ACLU said not so fast, and according to Larry Spalding, it was members of the Jewish community who raised a fuss.

"The people that contacted us believe, for example, if the government were to use taxpayer money to purchase Christian religious symbols, that would be inappropriate. They also believe if we use taxpayer money to purchase Jewish religious symbols, that too is inappropriate," said Larry Spalding of the American Civil Liberties Union.

But the rabbi says if Christmas trees aren't necessarily religious, neither is a menorah.

"We said if Hanukkah today is also a cultural holiday, and the menorah is part of cultural holiday decorations. So, if you paid for Christmas tree decorations, pay for this too."

Sounds simple, but now this mega-menorah has sparked a debate over holiday decorations. Leon County commissioners will have a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to consider the issue of holiday decorations.

The rabbi is willing to withdraw the request for public funding. It could settle the issue, but there is a public ceremony planned to light the menorah Sunday evening at the courthouse, and the ACLU may take issue with that ceremony as well.