A holiday display featuring a nativity scene and menorah will not be removed from an Air Force Base in California, officials announced Saturday.
The festive display is set up along a main drive heading into Travis Air Force Base and features statues of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus, along with a large Hanukkah menorah. It's part of a bigger display featuring Air Force jets and Santa Claus. Such holiday displays are a base tradition, according to Sacramento ABC affiliate KXTV-TV.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a civil rights group, had requested the religious items be removed or relocated after it said it received a complaint from a Travis airman.
"Both are clearly accessible on the main road," a letter from the MRFF to the Air Force said. "This conspicuous display of ritual objects is a clear endorsement of religion in violation of the...First Amendment."
"We're asking for the major religious symbols, the creche and the menorah, to be moved to the chapel right on base," it said.
But that's not going to happen: The office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General, after legal review, has determined the display does not violate the Constitution, KCRA-TV reported.
"While we appreciate the concerns raised by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the Office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General, upon review, concluded the inclusion of a Wing Chaplain sponsored Nativity Scene and Menorah as part of a broader, secular holiday seasonal display does not violate the establishment clause of the United States Constitution," a statement from the Travis Air Force Base said.
Michael Weinstein, president and founder of the MRFF, said he found the timing of the Air Force's announcement suspect.
"There is no mystery that the Air Force would not remove the unconstitutional display but we are just surprised it took so long. MRFF finds it disingenuous that this information was released on a Saturday before a holiday," he said.
The group said it is prepared to continue the fight against the display and plans to file a federal lawsuit.