The Christ is out of Christmas at the Staten Island St. George Ferry Terminal.
In what Catholics see as political correctness run amok, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) has removed a Nativity scene from the terminal, with an agency spokesman saying that the display was not authorized to be there.
But a menorah, marking the celebration of Hanukkah, and a Christmas tree remain on display in the terminal.
Catholics said the move was a nightmare before Christmas.
“We take this as a tremendous affront,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a watchdog of religious and civil rights.
The controversy reflects church-and-state battles that erupt nationwide each Christmas over the placement of religious symbols in public spaces.
A caller to the Advance today complained about the removal of the Nativity scene, which depicts the newborn Christ in the manger.
The caller said that workers in the terminal told her the display was removed after someone complained to the cityâ€™s 311 hotline.
But DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said the display was removed because the agency hadnâ€™t given permission for it to be there.
The crÃ¨che was placed there by “staff,” he said, and was removed by ferry personnel. He said there was no 311 complaint. Solomonow did not say exactly who had put up the display.
“Yes, Staten Island, there will still be Christmas trees and menorahs at the ferry terminals,” said Solomonow. “We find that Staten Islanders can agree that these holiday symbols enliven our terminals and will continue to [do so] throughout the holidays.”
Solomonow said the “DOT put up an inclusive display for the holiday season that was consistent both with traditions at the ferry terminal and also with legal precedent.”
A city source said that menorahs are not considered religious symbols, according to legal precedent.
But Donohue disagreed, and said that Nativity scenes should be allowed in the terminal if menorahs are.
“Itâ€™s like telling a Catholic that a crucifix is not religious,” he said. “These people have to get their lines straight.”
Donohue said that the league years ago won a legal challenge that allowed a Nativity scene to be placed in Penn Station where a menorah also was displayed.
Other public institutions here balance the religious and secular themes of the season.
At Borough Hall, for example, a Nativity scene, a menorah, a Christmas tree and a display for Kwanzaa share space next to each other in the lobby.
“Theyâ€™re all religious symbols,” Borough President James P. Molinaro, a Catholic, said tonight as he prepared to host a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony at Borough Hall. “Remove them all, or remove none. My opinion? Leave them all there.”
The controversy comes as conservative Christian groups like the American Family Association and The Liberty Counsel report that more retailers are using “Merry Christmas” in store displays and advertising rather than “Happy Holidays,” Fox News online said.
The groups had created top-100 “Naughty and Nice” lists and told consumers which businesses they see as “Christmas-friendly.”
On some occasions, the groups have mounted or threatened boycotts against retailers that didnâ€™t meet their standards.
Fox News said the skirmish in the stores is one of a few such battles being waged as Christmas approaches.
Last week, American Atheists put up a billboard over a New Jersey highway mocking the Nativity scene, declaring, “You know itâ€™s a myth. This season, celebrate reason!”
A few days later, the Catholic League counterpunched with its own billboard on the New York side of the same highway, saying, “You know itâ€™s real: this season celebrate Jesus. Merry Christmas from the Catholic League.”
“Our approach is positive, and services the common good,” Donohue said in a press release. “Theirs is negative, and is designed to sow division. Itâ€™s what they do.”
“Pro-Christmas” advocates appear to have public opinion on their side. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that people prefer to be greeted with “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays,” 69 to 24 percent.