ARMONK, N.Y. - When they lit the town Christmas tree in Armonk on Sunday, there was the Hanukkah menorah right alongside, as usual. There was also something new this year - an Islamic crescent and star.
And if there are any Buddhists or Hindus in town who want to see their symbols, the town welcomes applications.
The holiday display, sponsored by the town of North Castle, which includes the village of Armonk, is among a growing number around the country that include the symbol for Islam. "We've decided to go in the direction of being all-inclusive," said Reese Berman, supervisor of the town of 11,000, about 30 miles north of New York City and the site of IBM headquarters.
The star and crescent have been part of the national Christmas-tree display in Washington for more than a decade. The symbols also are part of the display in Mineola, on Long Island, which also features a Christmas tree, a menorah, a Nativity scene and a kinara candleholder for Kwanzaa. And Wellesley, Mass., has had a star and crescent alongside its Christmas tree and menorah for several years.
Armonk's display is centered on a gazebo in a towering pine grove. One tree about 11 feet tall, strung with white lights, has been placed inside. A silver menorah is a few steps to the right of the cobblestone walk leading to the gazebo. The bright-white crescent and star are on 6-foot-high stanchions to the left.
Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, said displaying a menorah and star and crescent - which he considers religious symbols - "shows tremendous sympathy for Jews and Muslims at the expense of the majority Christians" because he does not believe a Christmas tree is religious. He would favor adding a Nativity scene.
Christmas-season displays on public property have been controversial in recent years as courts have tried to balance free speech with church-state separation and wrestle with the issue of what is a religious symbol and what is secular. Two years ago, nearby Briarcliff Manor canceled its tree-and-menorah display rather than add a Nativity scene. Last year it put up a 6-foot-tall model of a dreidel, a spinning toy with Hebrew letters, trying to keep things secular.
North Castle added its menorah about 15 years ago at the behest of a local temple. Last year, the town board was approached by Asad Jilani, who thought his family and other Muslim residents should also be represented. Though there is not always an Islamic holiday in December, he thought it would be an appropriate time to note all cultures.
But the town leaders thought they didn't have enough time to address the request. Instead, they moved the menorah to the temple. Jilani was embarrassed: "The last thing I was suggesting was to move the menorah."