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Jan 10 2014

MA City Council: Jesus Must Be at City Hall!

Last year the city of Lowell, Massachusetts moved its nativity scene from public to private property, which is of course where it belongs. But this year the Lowell City Council has voted unanimously to move it back because they only care what Jesus thinks, not what you puny people think.

The council voted unanimously to approve Councilor Rita Mercier’s motion requesting that the Nativity set be returned to its traditional location at JFK Plaza next to City Hall despite legal concerns by the city’s top lawyer.

In addition, the council incorporated Councilor William Samaras’ amendment to Mercier’s motion asking the city to examine expanding the display to also honor other traditions and cultures.

This past season the city had moved the scene to the yard of nearby St. Anne’s Church after receiving complaints about the display being on government property, which prompted a legal analysis.

“Were we afraid of being sued?” Mercier said. “Because if we were, this is one lawsuit I would have no objection to fight all the way.”

Famous last words of elected officials spending other people’s money. She should ask the Dover school board how that attitude worked out for them.

“I don’t worry about what other people think,” Mercier said. “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

Yes, I’m sure the guy who said that you should pray in private rather than in public will care a great deal about whether this little piece of kitsch is on public or private property.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    nkrishna

    Man, for the fourth least goddy state in the union, we’ve still got our shit. -_-

  2. 2
    Chiroptera

    “I don’t worry about what other people think,” Mercier said. “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    I’d probably figure that he would be thinking, “WTF? Don’t you clowns have better things to do with your time and money?”

  3. 3
    jba55

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Lowell sucks.

  4. 4
    cptdoom

    As a native Bay Stater (currently living in exile in DC), I am pretty surprised this kind of religious crap happens in MA, especially when promoted by Protestants (wasn’t sure we actually let them into most cities in MA). The good news is the city is at least getting good legal advice that the current display is totally unconstitutional and the city manager is expressing concern that there is no way to have the display in its current form and be legal. So there are some rational people there – and it sounds like they’re beginning the movement to an “anyone can display” free-speech zone. They certainly have the time to prepare.

  5. 5
    Synfandel

    Yeah, ‘cuz people who “don’t care what other people think” are exactly the kind we all want representing us on city council.

  6. 6
    Sastra

    Okay. Time for someone at St. Anne’s Church to have a vision.

    Let it be of a crying Madonna holding a whimpering babe and begging “No, please do not remove us from the Holy Ground of St. Anne’s.” Let them remain afraid, but let’s muddy how sure they are about ‘what that figure laying in the manger represents’ really wants.

    Baby Jesus wantz to stay at the Church, okay? Don’t hurt the Baby Jesus and make Him cry some more.

    Not instead of the law, but in addition to the law. Because it looks like this is the level of discourse they’d find more impressive.

  7. 7
    John Pieret

    “Were we afraid of being sued?” Mercier said. “Because if we were, this is one lawsuit I would have no objection to fight all the way.”

    Right up to the point that the city’s insurance company disclaims because any opposition to such a lawsuit is frivolous and destined to lose and, therefore, neither representation nor damages is covered under the policy. There will be some hesitation when Liberty Counsel, or some other merry band of incompetent lawyers, offers to represent the city for “free” until they realize that doesn’t include paying the damages, including the plaintiff’s legal fees. At which point, the politicians (reasonably suspected of playing to popular sentiment) will cave and either open the area up to other displays, including secularist and atheist, or they will move the whole thing someplace else as they originally did.

    It has been said ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’ is the definition of insanity.

  8. 8
    matty1

    “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    He told you, or at least his dad did: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

    So either the figure in the manger doesn’t represent anything at all, in which case why bother, or they are breaking the second commandment.

  9. 9
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    Mercier said. “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    UR DOIN IT RONG!

    Obviously Mercier doesn’t need to be afraid, the good Lord obviously believes exactly what she believes. It’s all of those pesky residents, precedent court cases, and the Constitution of the US that should be afraid!

    Is she new at this or something?!?!

  10. 10
    cottonnero

    “…despite legal concerns by the city’s top lawyer.”

    Somebody’s got to stand up to experts.

  11. 11
    Michael Heath

    “I don’t worry about what other people think,” Mercier said. “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    Two of my biggest problems with Christians are:
    1) When Christians promote unconstitutional policy motivated by their interpretation of Christian dogma, they avoid or deny the fact such policies are unconstitutional. Conservatives Christians even go so far as falsely claiming they’re primary protectors of the Constitution when in fact no large group is more committed to unconstitutional policies.
    2) Christians argue ownership of what is objectively true, while energetically avoiding credible scrutiny on what’s objectively true and denying facts which falsify their beliefs.

    We see both examples illustrated here in what I quote.

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    “Were we afraid of being sued?” Mercier said. “Because if we were, this is one lawsuit I would have no objection to fight all the way.”

    This is an excellent example on why immunity for politicians in civil court should be limited, where exposure exists when they knowingly abuse their powers of office.

  13. 13
    DaveL

    This past season the city had moved the scene to the yard of nearby St. Anne’s Church after receiving complaints about the display being on government property, which prompted a legal analysis.

    Imagine if the nativity scene had been placed on the roof of city hall, but had been moved pursuant to a structural analysis. It is not courageous to ignore the considered opinion of experts you pay good money for. It’s just stupid.

  14. 14
    raven

    Mercier said. “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    1. The figure in the manger doesn’t think anything. It’s an inanimate object made out of plastic. If soda bottles and plastic containers are talking to you, seek professional help or put down your hash pipe.

    2. If she means jesus, how does she know what jesus thinks? While millions claim to hear voices in their heads named jesus, it isn’t very convincing. Jesus says wildly different things to different people.

  15. 15
    sigurd jorsalfar

    John Pieret, I have my doubts that insurance covers these kinds of lawsuits at all. Any one with real knowledge wanna chime in and help us out on this question? Thanks.

  16. 16
    jnorris

    I wish someone in Lowel had amended Councilor Rita Mercier’s motion to require her, and her alone, to cover all the town’s legal fees and fines for the lawsuit that IS coming.

  17. 17
    Moggie

    “I worry about who that figure laying in the manger represents. I fear what he thinks.”

    I wouldn’t worry about what he thinks, because it’s mainly “what the fuck is myrrh?”

  18. 18
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    despite legal concerns by the city’s top lawyer

    “Were we afraid of being sued?” Mercier said. “Because if we were, this is one lawsuit I would have no objection to fight all the way.”

    Whyinhell hasn’t the local newspaper juxtaposed these two quotes? Not to mention the comment about not caring what people think.

    As Michael Heath says, this is why the politicians who blatantly use public funds for unconstitutional purposes shouldn’t be immune to civil damages.

  19. 19
    Marcus Ranum

    Jesus Must Be at City Hall

    Maybe he’ll send his attorneys instead. That’d be more useful.

  20. 20
    jarjarbinks

    @ sigurd

    Since no one else has chimed in, I might as well answer your query.

    Schoolboards (most public policy making bodies actually) carry liability insurance against litigation costs. Theoretically this insurance can cover (depends on the type of policy) all possible lawsuits against that body. There is, however, one very important escape clause — the insured must not act recklessly or the claim will not be honored. Disregarding your lawyers advice on what is legal is one of the de facto reckless moves an insured body can make. The Dover schoolboard made that mistake in the 2005 case. The Cranston schoolboard made that mistake in the Alqhuist case (they actually made a more costly $1 million mistake a year before that as well…also for disregarding their lawyer’s advice). And the Lowell Council has likely made the same mistake.

    If their lawyer submitted an actual report to the Council based on an official query then their refusal to follow his opinion is grounds for refusal to honor the eventual claim. This is, of course, dependent upon the insurance company having a reckless, or similarly worded, clause in the policy, but I’ve never even heard of a policy without such clause.

    To be fair this clause is often invoked in non-religious issues as well, but given the readership, and my particular legal interests, I kept the examples pertinent.

  21. 21
    John Pieret

    jarjarbinks has the insurance situation correct but for Michael Heath @ 12:

    This is an excellent example on why immunity for politicians in civil court should be limited, where exposure exists when they knowingly abuse their powers of office.

    In fact, they can be personally liable, though it is rarely pursued in cases such as this as it creates a layer of complexity on an otherwise straightforward case. Very simply, if a government official acts contrary to a “well established” constitutional principle, he or she can be personally liable for damages to the plaintiff (and, quite possibly, to the government agency he/she represents and caused to be sued). In short, it becomes an “intentional tort,” which it is against public policy to insure against. Of course, another legal principle (“you can’t get blood from a turnip”) militates against pursuing such claims but if a city, school board, etc. did this sort of thing multiple times, it might be invoked.

  22. 22
    John Pieret

    BTW, jarjarbinks, do you have a reference for that $1 million mistake the Cranston schoolboard made before the Alqhuist case? I’d be interested.

  23. 23
    jarjarbinks

    John Pieret

    Not a reference as such. I’m a local in RI and I went to the final school board meeting in Cranston (fun times and all). During the discussion that the school board had one of the members brought up the fact that one of the reasons they were so in debt was their reticence to follow legal advice, and noted that they had a $1 million judgment leveled against the school board just the year before.

    There was a video made of that meeting so if you can find that you should be able to locate the comment relatively easy. Otherwise you would have to contact the town of Cranston directly.

    I made a note of that in my notebook when I was there. I agree that it is interesting. Perhaps I should follow up and get more paperwork to back up the claim before I post it around the internet again. Regardless, it would be interesting to see what resulted in a million dollar judgment.

  24. 24
    Lynne

    I am uploading the youtube video cut down to just the debate in question as we speak. My plan was to do a big post this weekend with cuts of the best (worst?) quotes from various folks, but…you beat me to it. My husband will send the link to Ed when it’s up on Youtube.

  25. 25
    Michael Heath

    Me earlier:

    This is an excellent example on why immunity for politicians in civil court should be limited, where exposure exists when they knowingly abuse their powers of office.

    John Pieret responds:

    In fact, they can be personally liable, though it is rarely pursued in cases such as this as it creates a layer of complexity on an otherwise straightforward case. Very simply, if a government official acts contrary to a “well established” constitutional principle, he or she can be personally liable for damages to the plaintiff (and, quite possibly, to the government agency he/she represents and caused to be sued). In short, it becomes an “intentional tort,” which it is against public policy to insure against. Of course, another legal principle (“you can’t get blood from a turnip”) militates against pursuing such claims but if a city, school board, etc. did this sort of thing multiple times, it might be invoked.

    I’m thinking of a different set of plaintiffs than the ones originally suing for their rights infringed upon. I don’t see the wisdom of the original plaintiffs going after the personal assets of officials. The second set of plaintiffs would be taxpayers after such officials lose in the original case demonstrating if that loss demonstrates their abuse of office as we see here and in Dover.

  26. 26
    mrlynne

    Here is a video of the motion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yug36jm7xg4

    Here is a short version with just some highlighted cuts (but see the long version if you have time – it’s hilarious in the public comment portion).

  27. 27
    Lynne

    http://www.leftinlowell.com/2014/01/10/rita-demonstrates-the-need-for-the-establishment-clause/

    OK, I’ve not only posted the above video with highlights; but also one showing our “nondenominational prayer” (recited at every meeting, kid you not, used to be the Lord’s Prayer…) and, if you really want to have fun, at the bottom I’ve posted the full 40 minutes. You do NOT want to miss the first citizen speaker, who compares Jesus to Darth Vader, and how you can get married civically but that’s NOT marriage in the eyes of God! Not sure why he brings up this point really.

    Actually all three of the speakers are…interesting…as are the City Councilors. I especially loved the moment when Rita ties religion to patriotism, and says you can get out of the country and find another if you don’t want to salute the flag. Whaaaa?

  28. 28
    Lynne

    Oh, and a little background for you, just for fun!

    Rita is a very longtime City Councilor – around 20 years or more? There is not much on which I agree with her generally. I love the comment above – “someone has to stand up to the experts” – yeah, pretty much. The new Mayor falls in that category too (as does the guy in the blackjack dealer vest). And this is not the first lawsuit these guys have been courting – end of last term, they decided to vote to ban panhandling in downtown. The ACLU has successfully sued against such ordinances elsewhere, on free speech grounds. They were told this before they voted.

    That city manager, in a bombshell to end all bombshells, tendered his resignation at the end of the meeting (for 60 days from that night). This is unrelated to the manger thing, well..sorta. I know him, and though he won’t say it, a good deal of it is because the faction of people who want to oust him got elected to a near-majority last fall…enough that his new contract was in jeopardy at a minimum, and also, who wants to put up with this stuff? The rest of the meeting wasn’t much better. They telegraphed making his life miserable since before the election. If I were in his shoes, I’d be saying “no thanks.” The last couple days have seen a slew of people bowing out, for other jobs, etc. Major players. We only hope Christine (the city solicitor giving the good advice on how to avoid a lawsuit) sticks around. We lost everyone else that was part of the team which has done Lowell so much good…

    Lowell is still a good place, we just gotta work out the kinks. The kinks being the older townies who are very, very set in their ways. They use the term “blow-ins” for people like me, derisively, of course. Lowell is a fascinating place to follow local politics, I’ll grant you that! Even with our recent setbacks (and wonderful examples like this manger thing), Lowell’s an up and comer, with a lot to offer. Or why else would I be this obsessed with all this stuff? :)

    If you are in New England, you have to check out the Lowell Folk Festival last weekend in July. OK, I’m done cheerleading. Please keep covering this if there are things to cover, it really helps us.

  29. 29
    stripeycat

    that figure laying in the manger

    Now I can’t get hen-Jesus out of my head. Cluck!

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