County commissioners debated the issue for over two hours in a special meeting Tuesday afternoon after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit over separation of church and state. Commissioners rescinded a decision they made just last week because they decided to follow the advice of their county attorney rather than disregarding it as they did last week.
Commissioners first took away $7,000 in public funding for the menorah, then took away any menorah at all. The tree stands alone in front of the Leon County courthouse, and this year at least, it'll stay that way.
"We desire to make enemies of no one, however, as I said, we will, we are intending to legally pursue our freedom of religion."
Rabbi Schneur Oirechman commissioned the $10,000 menorah for the courthouse lawn. With three Christmas trees displayed at the courthouse, Rabbi Oirechman argues a menorah belongs here too.
“County workers already dug this hole to put the menorah right by the Christmas tree, but the county attorney says while a Christmas tree isn't necessarily religious, a menorah certainly is.”
And other local Jews, in contrast to the rabbi, agreed.
"The members of our synagogue seem to be fairly unified with the notion we do not want the rest of the community misled to believe that a menorah is not a Jewish religious symbol."
"People are free to practice their religions or not to practice their religions as they so choose but it's not the government's business to involve itself in that process.”
Commissioners were unanimous in taking away public funding for the menorah, then split five-two on whether it should go
"If the taxpayers aren't paying for it, if we have a Christmas tree, we should also have a menorah, and I hope to goodness we never call a Christmas tree a holiday tree again," said Tony Grippa.
"If we had taken our county attorney's advice a week ago, we wouldn't be here today," Bob Rackleff said.
Rabbi Oirechman needs donations to pay for the $10,000 menorah. He plans to sue the county for the right to put it up on courthouse grounds.
Meanwhile, the city of Tallahassee will decide on Thursday whether to put up its menorah this year, a much smaller menorah that hasn't caused controversy in the past. The ACLU, however, will be watching.
Rabbi Oirechman says he received a call from the general manager of the Governor's Square Mall Tuesday, offering that as a site for the menorah ceremony. They plan to have it there Sunday night at five.
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