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Religious Displays to Be Moved to Park

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A week after a city committee banned religious displays from a busy intersection, the Mission Viejo City Council agreed Monday to continue its three-decade holiday tradition after all.

But the seasonal exhibit, celebrating everything from Christmas to Ramadan, will be moved to a neighborhood park rather than the intersection where it traditionally has been.

The display will be erected in Florence Joyner Olympiad Park, about two miles from the usual spot at the entrance to the city. A secular exhibit featuring Santa Claus, a winter scene and American flags will be put up at the intersection instead.

The Mission Viejo Activities Committee, a nonprofit group that coordinates the street corner display, decided last week to cancel the religious themes, saying it was no longer able to accommodate all the interested faiths.

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Muslim leaders, who for the first time put up a Ramadan message at the intersection last year, said the timing of the cancellation was unfortunate. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the displays are a fitting show of diversity, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim.

Mission Viejo Mayor William S. Craycraft came up with an alternative plan after receiving e-mails and phone calls from religious groups who wanted the custom to continue.

The plan was unanimously approved by the City Council on Monday night.

“We are taking a not-so-wonderful situation and trying to accommodate everybody,” Craycraft said after a two-hour public hearing on the issue.

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“A lot of individuals were upset that a long-standing tradition was changed,” City Manager Dan Joseph said. “This way we think we can have a lot of religious groups represented. We can probably accommodate 10 to 15 faiths.”

The mayor’s park plan received mixed reaction in the religious community.

“That is excellent news,” said Ayloush, who had expressed concern that the cancellation was motivated by irrational fear. “It’s a good way to start Ramadan off.”

But Rabbi Martin Cohen of Congregation Eilat, a conservative synagogue in Mission Viejo, had different thoughts.

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“As an American citizen, I feel it’s inappropriate to have religious symbols displayed at any public site,” Cohen said. “But if there is going to be some kind of display, I guess this is less exclusionary.”


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