Battleground Texas: Away in a Manger

As we draw near to Christmas, this weekend will be a maelstrom of activity, as Americans attempt to finish their shopping and struggle to finish putting up their Christmas decorations.

Among those decorations in the overwhelming majority of American homes will be a nativity scene, depicting the birth of Jesus Christ in a lowly manger, a little over 2,000 years ago.

Nativity scenes, in both public places and private homes, have been around since right after World War I.  By the time the 1950s rolled around, companies were selling lawn ornaments of non-fading, long-lasting, weather resistant materials telling the nativity story.

By the 1970s, churches and community organizations increasingly included animals in nativity pageants. Since then, automobile-accessible “drive-through” scenes with sheep and donkeys have become popular.

In 2005, President of the United States of America, George W. Bush and his wife, First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush displayed an 18th century Italian presepio in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., United States. The presepio was donated to the White House in the last decades of the 20th century.

On her Christmas Day 2007 television show, Martha Stewart exhibited the nativity scene she sculpted in pottery class at the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia while serving a 2005 sentence. She remarked, “Even though every inmate was only allowed to do one a month, and I was only there for five months, I begged because I said I was an expert potter—ceramicist actually—and could I please make the entire nativity scene.” She supplemented her nativity figurines on the show with tiny artificial palm trees imported from Germany.

Perhaps the best known nativity scene in America is the Neapolitan Baroque Crèche displayed annually in the Medieval Sculpture Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Its backdrop is a 1763 choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid and a twenty-foot blue spruce decorated with a host of 18th-century angels. The nativity figures are placed at the tree’s base. The crèche was the gift of Loretta Hines Howard in 1964, and the choir screen was the gift of The William Randolph Hearst Foundation in 1956.

Since it is Christmas, there has to be an Ebeneezer Scrooge,  someone who is too filled with bitterness toward the Almighty and their own miserable lives, to allow others to celebrate the joyous birth of the Christ Child.

In 1969, the American Civil Liberties Union (representing three clergymen, an atheist, and a leader of the American Ethical Society), tried to block the construction of a nativity scene on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The case continued until September 26, 1973, when the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and found the involvement of the Interior Department and the National Park Service in the Pageant of Peace amounted to government support for religion. The court opined that the nativity scene should be dropped from the pageant or the government end its participation in the event in order to avoid “excessive entanglements” between government and religion. In 1973, the nativity scene vanished. Nativity scenes are permitted on public lands in the United States as long as equal time is given to non-religious symbols.

In 1985, the United States Supreme Court ruled in ACLU v. Scarsdale, New York that nativity scenes on public lands violate separation of church and state statutes unless they comply with “The Reindeer Rule”—a regulation calling for equal opportunity for non-religious symbols, such as reindeer.

In 1994, the Christmas in the Park Board of San Jose, California, removed a statue of the infant Jesus from Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park and replaced it with a statue of the plumed Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, commissioned with US$500,000 of public funds. In response, protestors staged a living nativity scene in the park.

In 2006, a lawsuit was brought against the state of Washington when it permitted a public display of a “holiday” tree and a menorah but not a nativity scene. Because of the lawsuit, the decision was made to permit a nativity scene to be displayed in the rotunda of the state Capitol, in Olympia.

This year is no different.  The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group of 13,000 atheists from the Great White North, whose mission in life is to stamp out Christianity in public places , and making themselves a pile of money by filing lawsuits against Christians, are at it again. reports that

Christian pastors in Henderson County, Texas, are fighting back against atheists who are demanding that a nativity scene located on a courthouse lawn be taken down.

The group behind the complains, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, frequently targets faith and religion projects that are placed on public lands. The group sent a letter to the county that explains how a local resident, who wishes to remain nameless, is offended by the scene.

Here is some of the text from the letter (via Malakoff News):

It is our information and understanding that a large nativity scene is on display at the Henderson County Courthouse and that it is the only seasonal display on the grounds (see photo enclosed). It is unlawful for the County to maintain, erect, or host this nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion. The Supreme Court has ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property. [...]

We request that, as Henderson County Commissioners, you take immediate action to ensure that no religious displays are on city or county property. Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy this First Amendment violation so that we may notify our complainant.

“That Christianity was being promoted, endorsed by local government and this made them feel unwelcomed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. “It sends a message of intimidation and exclusion to non-Christians and non believers this time of year.”

As I have documented in previous posts, this group of bitter 8 Percenters  erroneously believes that their right to exercise their belief system trumps the right of 75% of Americans to express their Christianity in public.

Regarding the public nativity scene, I have a couple of suggestions for the FFRF:

1.  There are three other doors to the courthouse.  Use one of them.

2.  If the public nativity scene offends you…don’t look at it.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

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