Yes to the menorah and other holiday displays 

By Sahar Chmais
Trying to fill a need to show cultural diversity, the Buda City Council last week decided that, Yes, a menorah just might fit in.
And all kinds of other displays, if placed by residents on the Main Street Greenbelt, would keep the city in line with the constitution.
The only requirement is that residents apply for spacing through a city website before decorating for the holidays on the Greenbelt.
Robyn Katz, a Buda resident, reached out to city council asking for a menorah in this year’s holiday display. There have been recent requests from the public and residents to have additional space for diverse holiday displays, according to the city council. Moving forward, Buda residents have the opportunity to partake in the festive display, but they must send an application to the city.
“It is great to see how the city is becoming more diverse in many ways,” Katz wrote to council. “Unfortunately, we are one of the only cities in this area who does not have a menorah display in its city center during the holidays… There are a large number of people on social media’s Buda Area Connected Facebook page and Nextdoor who are outwardly supportive of this and who are encouraging the city to include [a menorah].”
A council discussion followed George Hyde’s recommendation, the city attorney, that offering a space to the public for their own displays promotes the exercise of free speech. Hyde suggested the use of caution with religious displays, which need to be secular, such as Santa Clause or decorated trees.
The U.S. Supreme Court adopted a fact-specific test to determine if displays in a city violate the first amendment, Hyde said. Whether a display is constitutionally allowed is determined based on the dominant theme of the display, rather than the objective, when applied by the court. If it is seen as an endorsement of religion or as religious, it is unconstitutional, Hyde said. If the dominant theme does not seem religious or as an endorsement of religion, then it is constitutional, he added.
Further, a U.S. Supreme Court case, Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, held that a Hanukkah menorah has both religious and secular connotations and may properly be displayed only if “the context presented” is an overall holiday setting. This means it clearly avoids the display from being considered “an endorsement of religion.”
Council members discussed whether the city should provide the requested menorah, or if displays should be provided by residents to sit in one common space. To avoid legal reprimand, council decided that residents will supply their own displays and apply for placing it at the greenbelt shared space.
“I do like the fact that folks can apply and own [displays]themselves and it’s not something the city is supplying, because then … we will have to represent all religions of the world,” said council member Matt Smith. “We keep our nice trees and snowflakes and snowmen and all that fun holiday stuff on the city side, but designating the space to create that inclusivity for those folks that don’t feel included, I see this as a great support.”
Mayor Lee Urbanovsky echoed Smith’s opinion, which would allow residents to express their beliefs without putting the city through potential legal ramification or leaving certain groups out.
The application for a holiday display will be available through the city’s website soon. The city wants residents to begin accessing the display space as soon as Monday, Nov. 15, said Greg Olmer, Buda Parks Director.
For questions regarding the application process or reserving time to access the space, call Shelby Fletcher, Recreation Program Coordinator, at 512-523-1081.

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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