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Court Clears Solstice Celebrators

January 27, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ A judge who said his Celtic pre-Christian ancestors considered the winter solstice a sacred celebration dismissed charges against solstice revelers arrested for building a bonfire and dancing on a beach.

``There are some occasions and situations where it is appropriate for the government to step back and allow special things to happen,″ Criminal Court Judge Michael Brennan said in a written ruling Tuesday in dismissing trespassing charges.

The 23 solstice revelers were cited Dec. 21 for dancing around a bonfire on a closed Staten Island beach.

The revelers, commemorating a pagan holiday that marks the shortest day of the year, ran afoul of a city crackdown on so-called quality-of-life offenses, the city’s term for minor infractions that contribute to a lack of urban civility. They were issued summons for using a city park after dark.

The solstice celebration, organized by Brooklyn resident Donna Henes, had been held for the previous 24 years without incident.

``Commemoration of this occasion for religious, historical or educational purposes is to be commended, not sanctioned,″ Brennan wrote in his decision.

Nine celebrants still face $50 fines because their summonses were issued by the city’s Parks Department.

The police and mayor’s office referred inquiries to the department, whose spokesman said the celebrants had committed serious violations of park rules.

``It was a special event held without notification of the Parks Department and with no regard for fire safety regulations,″ said Edward Skyler.

One reveler, Heather Abramson, wrote a song about her arrest, including the line: ``We’re taking you down, we won’t say where. You say it’s religious; well, we don’t care.″

She said she would like to take part in future celebrations, though ``I don’t think I would want to go if we got arrested every year.″

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