Bah, Humbug

Duking it out over baby Jesus on Bay Harbor Islands

For her part, Snowden says she lost her job as a community relations specialist at a local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which provides support to patients and families, after donors called threatening to withdraw their support. (The Alzheimer's Association did not return calls seeking comment.)

But Snowden continued fighting and scored her first victory December 15, 2004, when U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga issued an emergency injunction, allowing Snowden to place a Nativity scene alongside the menorah. The following night, The O'Reilly Factor ran a segment called "A Big Legal Win for the Baby Jesus in Florida." It featured lengthy interviews with Snowden and her lawyer.

Several religious right heavyweights also paid tribute. The Christian Coalition of South Florida donated the Nativity scene. Once the display was up, Snowden held a "blessing of the Nativity" ceremony, with a peace prayer delivered by Gary Cass, executive director of the influential Fort Lauderdale-based Center for Reclaiming America, which advocates for biblical principles in government. "We're supporting Sandra Snowden because her perseverance has brought a lot of attention to this issue," says Barbara Collier, who organizes grassroots activism campaigns for the center. "A lot of Christians don't know that our rights are slipping away."

Snowden's case continued to inch along until early April of this year. Then, when she was on the verge of reaching an agreement with the town, her More Center lawyers pulled out, citing "irreconcilable differences." The center did not return calls seeking comment, but Snowden says the organization didn't want to be party to ousting Salver.

So Snowden hired local attorney Kevin Brown, and less than two weeks later, on April 18, the parties agreed (and the court clinched the agreement with an order) that Mayor Salver would apologize and not seek election as mayor or vice mayor for two years — though he remains on the council. Snowden has since launched the Website Stop Salver (www.stopsalver.com) and a petition drive to have him recalled from his city council post. And she has barraged the Miami-Dade League of Cities, where he serves as president, with letters urging his ouster.

The court opened Broad Causeway Island not only to Snowden but also to all Bay Harbor Islands residents wanting to erect a holiday display. It also gave the town council the right to set some restrictions. So on October 10 it passed a resolution limiting each resident to one display of no more than twelve-by-fifteen feet and barring anyone from entering Broad Causeway Island to "gather or perform services."

"The island is a dangerous place for people to be because of the traffic," explains Simone, the town's lawyer. "We felt these rules would keep people safe."

Snowden chafed at the resolution, particularly the ceremony ban, since the Shul had been performing menorah-lighting rites on Broad Causeway Island for years. So she decided to ignore it. On October 17 she submitted plans to install three displays — the Nativity scene, a giant holiday greeting card, and an arc of military flags with a sign reading "Reclaim America for Christ This Christmas." She also outlined plans to perform ceremonies. That didn't sit well with town officials. "She was being greedy," Simone grumbles. "We gave an inch and she took a yard."

When the town denied her application, Snowden responded that she planned to bring her displays to town hall the Monday after Thanksgiving anyway, and to have a priest, reporters, and Christian Coalition members in tow. The town filed an emergency motion to stop her, and she filed a countermotion, so the case landed back in court.

On November 29, Judge Altonaga let all provisions of the resolution stand but said the ceremony ban might be enforceable only if the town passed an ordinance. Snowden responded that she would hold a protest, complete with a "living Nativity," on the streets of Bay Harbor Islands December 15. "I have to keep fighting," she explains. "If they can limit my Christian freedom of expression here in Miami-Dade County, they can do it in every public square across America."

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